If you have symptoms that are common to spinal tumors — such as persistent, unexplained back pain, weakness or numbness in your legs, or changes in your bowel or bladder function, call your doctor promptly. After your doctor examines you, you may be referred to a doctor who is trained to diagnose and treat cancer (oncologist) or brain and spinal cord conditions (neurologist, neurosurgeon or spine surgeon).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from the doctor.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you've been experiencing and for how long.
- List your key medical information, including all conditions you have and the names of any prescription and over-the-counter medications you're taking.
- Note any family history of brain or spinal tumors, especially in a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling.
- Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor at your initial appointment include:
- What may be causing my symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes?
- What kinds of tests do I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
- What do you recommend for next steps in determining my diagnosis and treatment?
- Should I see a specialist?
Questions to ask an oncologist or neurologist include:
- Do I have a spinal tumor?
- What type of tumor do I have?
- Is the tumor noncancerous or cancerous?
- If the tumor is cancerous, how aggressive is it?
- What are the goals of my treatment?
- Am I a candidate for surgery? What are the risks?
- Am I a candidate for radiation? What are the risks?
- Is there a role for chemotherapy?
- What treatment approach do you recommend?
- If the first treatment isn't successful, what will we try next?
- What is the outlook for my condition?
- Do I need a second opinion?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that may come up during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Thinking about your answers ahead of time can help you make the most of your appointment. A doctor who sees you for a possible spinal tumor may ask:
Oct. 21, 2011
- What are your symptoms?
- When did you first notice these symptoms?
- Have your symptoms gotten worse over time?
- If you have pain, where does the pain seem to start?
- Does the pain spread to other parts of your body?
- Have you participated in any activities that might explain the pain, such as new exercise or a long stretch of gardening?
- Have you experienced any weakness or numbness in your legs?
- Have you had any difficulty walking?
- Have you had any problems with your bladder or bowel function?
- Have you been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
- Are you currently taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications?
- Do you have any family history of noncancerous or cancerous spinal tumors?
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- Brain and spinal tumors: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brainandspinaltumors/detail_brainandspinaltumors.htm#43233060. Accessed Aug. 28, 2011.
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- Spinal cord tumors. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/print/sec17/ch236/ch236g.html. Accessed Aug. 31, 2011.
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- Detailed guide: Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003088-pdf.pdf. Accessed Aug. 28, 2011.
- Sundaresen N. Primary malignant tumors of the spine. Orthopedic Clinics of North America. 2009;40:21.
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- Sachdev S, et al. Stereotactic radiosurgery yields long-term control for benign intradural, extramedullary spinal tumors. Neurosurgery. 2011;69:533.
- Sagar SM. Acupuncture as an evidence-based option for symptom control in cancer patients. Current Treatment Options in Oncology. 2008;9:117.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 2, 2011.
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