Overview

Vertebral tumor consultation Vertebral tumor consultation

A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of your spine. It may be cancerous or noncancerous.

Tumors that affect the bones or vertebrae of the spine are called vertebral tumors.

Spinal tumors that begin within the spinal cord itself are called spinal cord tumors.

Tumors that affect the vertebrae have often spread (metastasized) from cancers in other parts of the body. But there are some types of tumors that start within the bones of the spine, such as chordoma, chondrosarcoma, osteosarcoma and Ewing's sarcoma.

A vertebral tumor or a growth of any kind can affect the nervous system and impair neurological function by pushing on the spinal cord or nerve roots nearby. As these tumors grow within the bone, they may also cause pain, vertebral fractures or spinal instability.

Whether cancerous or not, a vertebral tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability.

Treatment for a vertebral tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.

Find out why Mayo Clinic is the best place for your care.

Symptoms

Depending on the location and type of vertebral tumor, different signs and symptoms can develop, especially as a tumor grows and affects your spinal cord or the nerve roots, blood vessels, or bones of your spine. Vertebral tumor signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain at the site of the tumor due to tumor growth
  • Back pain, often radiating to other parts of your body
  • Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves are compressed

Spinal tumors progress at different rates. In general, cancerous spinal tumors grow more quickly, and noncancerous spinal tumors tend to develop very slowly.

When to see a doctor

Although back pain is a common symptom of spinal and vertebral tumors, there are many other causes of back pain. Most back pain isn't caused by a tumor. But because early diagnosis and treatment are important for vertebral tumors, see your doctor about your back pain if:

  • It's persistent and progressive
  • It's not activity related
  • It gets worse at night
  • You have a history of cancer and develop new back pain
  • You have other systemic symptoms of cancer, such as nausea, vomiting or dizziness

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Progressive muscle weakness or numbness in your legs or arms
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function

Causes

Vertebral tumors that begin in the spine are very rare, and it's not clear why they develop. Experts suspect that defective genes play a role. But it's usually not known whether such genetic defects are inherited, occur spontaneously or are caused by something in the environment, such as exposure to certain chemicals.

Most vertebral tumors are caused by other cancerous tumors that have spread from elsewhere in the body. Any type of cancer can travel to the spine, but cancers of nearby organs such as the breast, lung and prostate are more likely than others to spread to the spine as well as cancers of the bone such as multiple myeloma.

Vertebral tumors also are more common in people who have a prior history of cancer.

Complications

Both noncancerous and cancerous vertebral tumors can compress spinal nerves, leading to a loss of movement or sensation below the level of the tumor and sometimes to changes in bowel and bladder function. Nerve damage may be permanent.

A vertebral tumor may also damage the spine and make it unstable, which raises the risk of a sudden fracture or collapse of the spine that could injure the spinal cord.

However, if caught early and treated aggressively, it may be possible to regain nerve function. Depending on its location, a tumor that impinges on the spinal cord itself may be life-threatening.

Vertebral tumor care at Mayo Clinic

Aug. 29, 2017
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