Banner Health
Making healthcare easier

Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors that start in the spine are rare. While uncommon, a diagnosis of a spinal tumor can still be unsettling. Count on our multidisciplinary team to help support and care for you during this journey. We are here to provide an integrated approach to create a customized treatment for you.

What Is a Spinal Tumor? 

Spine tumors are abnormal growths that develop in the spine, which is the column of bones that runs down the center of the back and supports the body. Spine tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and they can occur in any part of the spine, including the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid-back), and lumbar spine (lower back).

Spine tumors can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on their size and location. Some common symptoms of a spine tumor may include:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty with balance or coordination
  • Difficulty with bowel or bladder control

Spine tumors are usually diagnosed using imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The appropriate treatment will depend on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the individual patient's symptoms and medical history.   

Types of Spinal Tumors

There are two types of spinal tumors: malignant and benign. Sometimes, cysts can be mistaken for tumors since they are similar in size and shape. Metastatic spinal tumors are common. These are tumors that have developed and formed from other tumors or cancer that have spread.

Malignant Spinal Tumors

Malignant spinal tumors are cancerous and may spread to other parts of the body.

Multiple Myeloma: This type of cancer forms in the plasma cells. Plasma cells fight off infections in the body. When multiple myeloma takes over the healthy plasma cells, the cancerous plasma cells grow in the bone marrow.

Peripheral nerve tumor: Peripheral nerve tumors are rare tumors that arise from the insulating cells   that make up the peripheral nerves, which are the nerves that carry signals between the brain and spinal cord and the rest of the body, such as in the arms and legs. Peripheral nerve tumors can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and they can occur anywhere in the body where there are peripheral nerves. Symptoms of peripheral nerve tumors can vary depending on the location and size of the tumor, but may include swelling, pain, weakness, numbness or changes in sensation in the affected area. Treatment options for peripheral nerve tumors may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The choice of treatment will depend on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the stage. 

Chordoma: Chordoma is a rare type of cancer that arises from cells that form the spine and spinal cord during fetal development. These cells, known as notochordal cells, normally disappear during development, but in some cases, they can persist and form a tumor. Chordoma can occur anywhere along the spine but is most commonly found in the skull base and the tailbone (sacrum or coccyx). Chordoma is a slow-growing cancer, but it can be difficult to treat because it often returns after treatment. Symptoms of chordoma can vary depending on the location of the tumor, but may include pain, weakness, numbness and difficulty walking. Treatment options for chordoma may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The choice of treatment will depend on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the stage of the tumor. 

Benign Spinal Tumors

Benign spinal tumors are not cancerous and do not spread throughout the body.

Hemangioblastoma: A hemangioblastoma is a rare, noncancerous (benign) tumor that arises from blood vessels in the brain or spinal cord. Hemangioblastomas are typically slow-growing and eventually cause symptoms due to growth, expansion of an associated cyst or by inducing brain swelling. If a hemangioblastoma becomes large enough, it can press on nearby structures and cause problems such as headache, weakness, numbness or changes in vision. Hemangioblastomas are more common in people with von Hippel-Lindau disease, an inherited syndrome that increases the risk of certain types of tumors, though many patients with hemangioblastomas do not have this syndrome. Treatment options for hemangioblastomas may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy or other treatments. The choice of treatment will depend on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the location and extent of the growth. Our brain tumor board involving experts in many fields (e.g., neurosurgery, neuro-oncology, radiation oncology, neuropathology, neuroradiology, genetics, clinical trials and others) participates in management and can quickly devise an individualized treatment plan. 

Schwannoma: Schwannoma is a tumor that grows on the nerves in the nervous system. While the main cause of schwannoma is unknown, there may be a connection to genetics. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, it may cause numbness and pain.

Syringomyelia: Syringomyelia is a condition in which a cyst, or cavity, forms within the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, can expand over time, damaging the spinal cord and causing a variety of symptoms, including pain, weakness and problems with sensation in the arms and legs. In some cases, syringomyelia can also cause problems with the function of the bladder and bowel. The cause of syringomyelia is not always known, but it is often associated with spinal injuries or abnormalities, such as a tethered cord or a Chiari malformation. Treatment for syringomyelia may involve surgery to remove the syrinx or to stabilize the spinal cord, as well as medications to manage symptoms. 

Meningioma: Meningioma is a common type of brain tumor that is typically benign. This type of tumor usually forms on the membranes near the spinal cord and brain. Depending on the location of the tumor, symptoms can include vision loss, seizures, coordination issues and weakness in limbs. Our specialists will conduct a neurological exam and run imaging tests to determine a diagnosis of meningioma.

Learn more about neurosurgical tumors.

Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Tumor

Common signs of a spinal tumor can be tied to back and neck pain. It’s important to listen to your body if you start to feel numbness, have difficulty walking or feel weak. If left untreated, spinal tumors can cause spinal deformities, like scoliosis or kyphosis, to form.

Testing and Diagnosis for Spinal Tumors

Our spine specialists will order imaging tests to better determine your condition. Testing may include:

Learn more about spinal tumor testing and diagnosis

Spinal Tumor Treatment Options

Our team of specialists is here to help get you back on your feet. We understand that discussing treatment options for spinal tumors can be overwhelming. Trust the multidisciplinary staff at Banner Brain & Spine to provide support and personalized care for your spinal tumor. Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgical removal of the tumor

Learn more about spine surgery.

Our multidisciplinary team of experts will communicate with you every step of the way to make sure you are informed and educated on treatment options. We’re here to support you through this journey. Lean on us to answer any questions you may have.