What are Spinal Tumors?
A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or surrounding the spinal cord. A tumor can be harmless (benign) or dangerous (malignant).
A small number of spinal tumors occur in the nerves of the spinal cord itself. Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors. Tumors that spread to the spine from some other place (metastasis) are called secondary spinal tumors. Tumors may spread to the spine from the breast, prostate, lung, and other areas.
The cause of primary spinal tumors is unknown. Some primary spinal tumors occur with genetic defects. Spinal tumors can occur:
- Inside the spinal cord (intramedullary)
- In the membranes (meninges) covering the spinal cord (extramedullary – intradural)
- Between the meninges and bones of the spine (extradural)
Or, tumors may extend from other locations. Most spinal tumors are extradural.
As it grows, the tumor can affect the:
- Blood vessels
- Bones of the spine
- Nerve roots
- Spinal cord cells
The tumor may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing damage. With time, the damage may become permanent.
The symptoms depend on the location, type of tumor, and your general health. Tumors that have spread to the spine from another site (metastatic tumors) often progress quickly. Primary tumors often progress slowly over weeks to years. Tumors in the spinal cord usually cause symptoms, sometimes over large portions of the body. Tumors outside the spinal cord may grow for a long time before causing nerve damage.
Symptoms may include:
- Abnormal sensations or loss of sensation
- Fecal incontinence
- Inability to keep from leaking urine (urinary incontinence)
- Muscle contractions, twitches, or spasms (fasciculations)
- Muscle function loss
- Muscle weakness (decreased muscle strength not due to exercise):