Spine Tumor

What is a Spine Tumor?

Spine tumors are growths that develop in the spinal canal, on the spinal cord or in the bones of the spine (vertebrae).

There are three main types of spinal cord tumors:

  • Extramedullary tumors: These develop within the supporting network of cells around the spinal cord and may affect spinal cord function due to compression. This type includes meningiomas, neurofibromas and schwannomas.
  • Intramedullary tumors: These begin within the spinal cord’s own cells. This type includes astrocytomas and ependymomas.
  • Tumors involving the boney vertebrae: These tumors often spread from another site in the body to the bones of the vertebrae.

Fewer than 10 percent of all spine tumors actually begin in the spine. Those that do, called primary tumors, can be benign or cancerous and slow-growing or aggressive. Any type of spine tumor can lead to pain, nerve problems, weakness and sometimes paralysis.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with neurological conditions and the diagnosis, management and treatment of spine tumors. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient and Home Health physical, occupational, cognitive and speech therapy services are available to help treat people with spine tumors. In addition, we have the region’s only advanced 3Tesla MRI, MRI spectroscopy and functional MRI technology to accurately diagnose all manner of neurologic disease, including spine tumors.

You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Signs and Symptoms

Spine tumor symptoms vary, depending on the type and location. They may include:

  • Back pain, and sometimes pain radiating to other body parts
  • Balance problems
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain and temperature
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Loss of sensation, especially in the limbs
  • Muscle weakness in varying degrees and locations
  • Tingling or numbness in arms or legs


To determine if someone has a spine tumor, we use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:

Biopsy: A physician or surgeon can use a fine needle to draw a small amount of tissue, or make a small incision to remove a sample of the tissue and study it under a microscope to look for cancer or other identifying cells.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan: This test uses X-rays and computers to create images of the spine. Sometimes, a patient will be injected with contrast dye to make abnormalities easier to see.

Spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce images of the spine. It can show the spinal cord and nerves and provides better pictures of bone tumors than CT scans do.


The exact cause of most spine tumors is unknown. They are most likely due to genetic mutations. Sometimes, spine tumors are caused by cancer that has spread from another part of the body. No known behavioral or lifestyle factors seem to play a role in their development.

Risk Factors 

Risk factors that may contribute to spine tumors include:

A history of cancer: Because nearly any type of cancer can spread to the spine, it is a risk factor for secondary (or metastatic) spine tumors. The cancers most likely to affect the spine include lung, breast, prostate and multiple myeloma.

Neurofibromatosis 2: This inherited disorder causes benign (non-cancerous) tumors to develop on or near the auditory nerves, which affect hearing. Spinal canal tumors sometimes develop in people affected by this condition.

Von Hippel-Lindau disease: This rare disease is associated with noncancerous blood vessel tumors (hemangioblastomas) in the brain, retina and spinal cord and with other types of tumors in the kidneys or adrenal glands.


There is no known way to prevent spine tumors.


The outlook for a spine tumor depends on its type, stage and location. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to a better outcome. Many spine tumors can be treated safely with no neurologic damage and to improvement of symptoms.

Treatment and Recovery

Treatment of spine tumors may include:


Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered as a pill or injected into the bloodstream and may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells and as a means of reducing symptoms.


Spine tumors and some of their treatments can cause inflammation inside the spinal cord. A physician may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce this inflammation and related symptoms.


This minimally invasive procedure is used to treat the pain associated with tumors of the bony vertebrae.


Some spine tumors are non-cancerous, don’t grow or spread, and don’t cause significant symptoms. In these cases, a physician may check on them regularly through imaging scans but avoid further treatment.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation is directed specifically to the spine. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery

This treatment delivers a high dose of precisely targeted radiation. Physicians use computers to focus radiation beams on tumors with pinpoint accuracy and from multiple angles.

Surgical Procedures

If a tumor can be removed without significant spinal cord injury or nerve damage, this is the most effective treatment. New minimally invasive and microsurgical techniques allow surgeons to remove previously inaccessible tumors and perform surgeries with fewer side effects. Depending on the procedure, recovery may take weeks to months, and some degree of temporary or permanent nerve damage may occur.

Thermal Ablation

This minimally invasive procedure is used to treat and kill cancer cells of the bony vertebrae and control pain.


Spine tumors can cause complications including:

Permanent nerve damage: If a tumor compresses a nerve for too long or is left untreated, problems like weakness, numbness, paralysis or loss of bladder and bowel function may be permanent.

Next Steps with MyChart

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