Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors are atypical growths inside the spinal column that usually cause pain and other symptoms. Spine tumors can be identified in several different ways and there is a wide range of descriptions that address them. One way to describe a spine tumor is by whether it is primary or metastatic:

  • A primary tumor is one that originated in the spine or spinal column.
  • A metastatic tumor is one that grows as an extension of another cancer (such as breast, liver, colon, or kidney). More than 40 percent of patients who have cancer will experience the spread of their cancer to their spine in their lifetime.


Another way to describe a tumor is by whether it is benign vs. malignant:

  • A benign spinal tumor usually has clear borders and edges and does not penetrate the surrounding healthy tissue. A benign tumor isn’t cancerous, but it may need to be removed if it’s causing additional symptoms or placing too much pressure on the spine. Benign spine tumors include meningiomas, schwannomas, osteoid osteomas, and osteoblastomas.
  • A malignant tumor is a cancerous growth that spreads and affects other tissue. Malignant spine tumors include chondrosarcomas, Ewing sarcomas, and osteosarcomas.

Spinal tumors can also be categorized by their location within the spine:

Intramedullary: Tumors that grow in the spinal cord itself, or in the nerves coming out of the spinal cord, usually in the upper spine or neck Intramedullary tumors are frequently benign but can be harder to remove due to their location.

Intradural-extramedullary: Tumors that occur outside the spinal cord but within its protective covering. These tumors are frequently benign, but they can also be hard to remove surgically and may grow back after treatment.

Extradural: The most common type of spinal tumors, forming outside the spinal cord in the bones and cartilage of the vertebrae. Some extradural tumors develop from the vertebrae themselves (primary), but extradural tumors are more frequently metastatic tumors that spread from other cancers.

The treatment and patient outcomes for a spine tumor vary based on whether it is primary or metastatic, benign or malignant, and other health factors such as comorbidities. Treatment at a comprehensive spine center can give patients the widest range of expert options available, along with access to clinical trials and cutting-edge research.

Treatment can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of all three depending on the unique circumstances surrounding each tumor. Pain management and preserving neurologic capacity is a key component of spine treatment delivered at comprehensive spine centers. Multiple treatment options are available in our care, from surgery to improve spinal deformities or nerve compression to interventional techniques injected into the bone to help strengthen the spine. Please contact us for further information.

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