Tumors that grow on or near the bones of the spine or around the spinal cord can disrupt the line of communication between the spinal cord and the brain. Spinal tumors can originate in the spine, or spread to the spine from another part of the body. A spinal tumor can cause different kinds of symptoms, depending on where it is located and what type of tumor it is. Generally, spinal tumor symptoms can include:
- Back pain
- Strange feeling, either of coldness or numbness, in the legs or hands
- Muscle discomfort, including weakness and cramping
Spinal Tumor Care
We offer comprehensive and multidisciplinary management of spinal tumors. If our expert team of spinal surgeons suspects you have a spinal tumor, we refer you for an evaluation at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Institute. We make sure that you meet with a clinician who has extensive experience recognizing different types of spinal tumors. This helps us either rule out cancer or confirm a diagnosis. Then, we work with you to develop the most effective and appropriate treatment plan.
Spinal Tumor Diagnosis
Even though accurately diagnosing spinal tumors can be difficult, the orthopedic surgeons at Georgetown have tremendous experience surgically treating them. We work within a multidisciplinary team including medical and radiation oncologists. Our initial exam generally includes:
- Taking your medical history – This includes asking questions about the type of pain and strange sensations you are experiencing, as well as whether you have had cancer previously. Other questions may be about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications.
- Neurological exam – The orthopedist will check your reflexes, muscle tone, muscle strength, and feeling in your spine.
- Imaging tests – A variety of imaging tests can confirm a spinal tumor. These include:
- X-ray, which creates a picture of your spine
- CT scan, which combines X-ray technology with computers to provide a very detailed picture of the spine
- MRI, which uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, nerves, and disks in the spine
- Myelogram, in which your orthopedist injects special dye into your spine. The dye colors your nerves, and shows if they are being squeezed by the vertebrae as a result of a tumor.
- Biopsy – In a biopsy, your orthopedist will remove a small sample of tissue from your tumor to examine it more closely and determine what kind of tumor you have.
Spinal Tumor Treatment
Treatment for a spinal tumor aims to remove or shrink the tumor and prevent it from damaging the spinal cord. The spinal surgeons at MedStar Georgetown will work with you and your family to determine the most effective treatment options for you. In many cases, we recommend surgery to remove the as much of the tumor as possible. Our orthopaedic surgeons have training and expertise in the most advanced microscopic and minimally invasive spinal surgeries.
- Microscopic and minimally invasive spinal surgery at MedStar Georgetown.
- Motion-sparing spinal surgery at MedStar Georgetown.
In other cases, we may recommend non-surgical treatment options, including:
- Monitoring tumor growth
- Medication, such as corticosteroids, to ease any swelling and inflammation