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What is a Spinal Tumor?
Spinal tumor is a term that refers to any of the malignant or benign growths that can develop in or around the spinal cord and/or column. There are three main categories of spinal tumors, which are distinguished according to the location of the tumor. These types of tumors include the following: 1) Vertebral Column Tumors, 2) Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors, and 3) Intramedullary Tumors.
Vertebral Column Tumors can occur on any of the bone or disc elements of the spine. Referred to as primary tumors, these can be malignant or benign, and occur most often in young adults. It is also common to find vertebral column tumors that have spread from other cancers in the body. For example, an individual with breast or lung cancer may develop a spinal tumor due to the spine’s vicinity to the original cancer cells.
Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors are located in the spinal cord itself, underneath the cord’s protective sheath (known as the dura) but above the spine’s actual nerve fibers. This type of tumor is typically benign, but can cause discomfort as pressure builds around the spinal cord and nerves.
Intramedullary Tumors are found in the actual nerve fibers of the spinal cord. This type of spinal tumor often occurs from genetic disruptions of the glial cells—supportive cells that provide protection and insulation to spinal neurons. These tumors—most often located in the cervical (neck) region of the spine—tend to be benign; but can be difficult to remove because of their location.
A definitive cause that leads to spinal tumors is not fully known; however, there is an understanding that defective genes may play a role. Although it has been determined that a vast majority of spinal tumors result from a metastatic cancer elsewhere in the body, there are a number of inheritable disorders that can promote the development of spinal tumors.
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What are the Symptoms of Spinal Tumors?
The symptoms associated with spinal tumors often vary depending upon the location of the tumor and the spinal nerves that are involved.
General symptoms of spinal tumors are as follows:
- Pain: Pain can be localized or radiate outward to the set of limbs that correspond with location of the tumor. For example, spinal nerves in the cervical (neck) region of the spine supply sensation to the arms and hands. A tumor in this location of the spine may cause pain to radiate outward into the arms or fingertips. By contrast, a tumor in the lumbar spine (lower back) may cause unpleasant sensations to shoot into the legs or feet. It is also important to note that—unlike with other back issues—pain from spinal tumors typically does not abate while resting. The discomfort tends to be persistent regardless of the activity and may even worsen while lying down.
- Neurological Problems: These symptoms can vary widely, ranging from weakness in the arms and legs to difficulty walking or an increased incidence in falls. If you experience loss of bowel or bladder control, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to irreversible loss of sensation in the limbs.
- Other Symptoms: Some individuals with spinal tumors also report experiencing loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, or feverish symptoms such as chills or high temperatures.
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms and worry that you may have spinal cancer? Do you currently have a cancer located elsewhere in the body, and have started to experience the above symptoms? Call NYC Spine today to set up an appointment with our Harvard-trained, board certified, Dr. Frazier. With over 20 years of surgical experience, Dr. Frazier will work one-on-one with you to ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis and speedy treatment.
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What are the Treatments for Spinal Tumors?
The main goal of treatment for spinal tumors, especially for those that are malignant, is tumor removal. This inevitably involves surgical intervention and can range in difficulty based upon the location of the tumors. Tumors that are located on spinal bones or disc tissue, for example, are often easier to access than are tumors located in or around the spinal cord.
If a tumor is small, benign, or not causing any troubling symptoms, your physician may recommend monitoring the tumor for changes. For larger benign or malignant tumors, immediate action should be taken to remove all or part of the tumor. Surgery may also be necessary to decompress pinched nerves that result from spinal tumors that impinge upon pain-generating nerves. In addition, for those individuals who have been diagnosed with a tumor that is embedded within nerve fibers or spinal tissues, chemotherapy and radiation may also be recommended to promote a full recovery.
Dr. Frazier, a leading contributor to advancements in the spine care community, has over 20 years of experience in treating spinal tumors and may recommend the following surgical interventions:
- Laminectomy & Foraminotomy (Combined Procedure): A same day, minimally invasive surgery which serves to remove any structures that may be causing pain or the pinching of the nerves. Tumors can often push on nerves, causing nerve damage, and generating neurological symptoms such as burning or tingling in the extremities.
- Minimally Invasive ALIF, TILF, & XLIF Fusions: As tumors can often cause weakening of the spine, spinal fusions of vertebrae, foraminal fusions, or minimally invasive axial fusions can be used to rebuild the structure and stability of the spine.
However, each patient’s situation and circumstances are different and these surgical options only represent a few or the many procedures that Dr. Frazier might suggest to eliminate your discomfort. For sophisticated surgical solutions and precision that you can trust, NYC Spine is always available to help you navigate the recovery process and define what relief means to you.
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Dr. Frazier is a Harvard-trained, board certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He’s held an academic appointment at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York’s SUNY Downstate. Dr. Frazier is also a respected lecturer, accomplished researcher, published author on spine disorders and treatment, and a consultant for several international spine companies.
After completing his undergraduate education at Brown University, Dr. Frazier attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He completed a Harvard internship based at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, followed by a Harvard combined residency before becoming chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Education & Training
MD / Cum Laude
Harvard Medical School
Mass. General Hospital
Spinal Deformity Fellowship
Doctor’s Hospital (Miami, FL)