A spinal tumor can develop within the spine or travel (metastasize) to the spine from another area in the body. Like other tumors, the growth can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). The concern with a tumor in the spine is that it has the potential to put pressure on nerves or destroy bone, leading to pain, spinal misalignment and sometimes paralysis.
Tumors that originate in the spine are relatively uncommon; however, individuals with a history of breast, lung, prostate cancer or multiple myeloma should be especially vigilant to new or unusual back pain, as this may indicate the cancer has metastasized. Cancerous tumors tend to grow more quickly than noncancerous tumors.
The hallmark symptom of a tumor in the spine is back pain. Most cases of back pain are not caused by a spinal tumor; rather, episodes of back pain are usually brought on by aging, strain or other noncancerous spine disorders. Symptoms of a spinal tumor vary, depending on the location and type of growth. Symptoms may include:
Spinal Tumor Types
Tumors are classified by where they originate in the spine or by cell type (e.g. hemangioma, osteoblastoma):
Extradural tumor – most common type of spinal tumor; affects the bones and cartilage of the vertebrae. Most often develops as a result of cancer that originates elsewhere in the body.
Intradural extramedullary tumor – occurs outside the spinal cord but within its protective covering (arachnoid membrane), e.g., meningioma
Intramedullary tumor – develops within the spinal cord; can be cancerous or noncancerous. Often seen in children and young adults.
Saint Barnabas Medical Center
Formerly St. Luke’s-Roosevelt
Hospital in Manhattan
Formerly Lenox Hill Hospital