Spinal tumors are rare and they are either benign or malignant. A spinal tumor develops within or near your spinal cord or within the bones of your spine. Although back pain is the most common indication of a spinal tumor, most back pain is associated with stress, strain and aging (not with a tumor).
Some tumors are known to metastasize via arteries, veins and the lymphatic system. Malignant tumors of the breast, prostate, lung, and kidney can spread into the spine. Spinal tumors can be dangerous when they cause spinal canal compression which may lead to paralysis. Paralysis may occur in various degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves are compressed.
Depending on the location and type of tumor, various signs and symptoms can develop, especially as a tumor grows and impinges on your spinal cord or on the nerve roots, blood vessels or bones of your spine. Signs and symptoms may include:
• Back pain
• Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in your legs
• Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
• Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
• Loss of bowel or bladder function
Back pain, especially in the middle or lower back, is the most frequent symptom of both noncancerous and cancerous spinal tumors. The pain may be worse at night or on awakening. It also may spread beyond your spine to your hips, legs, feet or arms and may become more severe over time in spite of treatment.
Spinal tumors progress at different rates. In general, cancerous tumors grow more quickly, whereas noncancerous tumors may develop very slowly, sometimes existing for years or even decades before causing problems.
See your doctor about your back pain if:
• It's persistent
• It's not activity related
• It gets worse at night
• It isn't relieved by over-the-counter analgesics
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience progressive muscle weakness or numbness in your legs and/or changes in bowel or bladder function.
A spinal tumor, whether cancerous or not, can threaten life and cause permanent disability. Yet advances in spinal tumor treatment offer more options than ever before.