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Spinal Tumours

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What is a Spine Tumour?

A spine tumour is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of tissues or cells in and around the spinal cord. Tumours can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Tumours that begin in the spine are called primary spinal tumours. Tumours that spread to the spine from other parts such as the breast, prostate, lung, and other areas are called secondary spinal tumours.

Types of Spine Tumours

Some of the commonly occurring benign spinal tumours are osteoma, osteoblastoma, hemangioma, and osteochondroma. Most commonly occurring malignant spinal tumours are chondrosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and multiple myeloma. 

Causes of Spine Tumours

The cause of primary spinal tumours is not known but may occur with genetic defects.

Secondary spinal tumours occur when the cancer cells arise from the kidneys, lungs, breasts, and spread to the spine. The other causes may include:

  • Rapid division of cancer cells in the nerves, bones or cartilage of the spine
  • Exposure to radiations and chemicals
  • Hereditary tumours including neurofibromatosis, a tumour of the spinal nerves 

Symptoms of Spine Tumours

You may experience persistent and chronic back pain, numbness, burning and tingling sensation, loss of sensation in your arms, knees, legs, and ankles, difficulty in balancing, and experience bladder or bowel control problems.

Diagnosis of Spine Tumours

Spine cancer can be diagnosed by neurological examination, which identifies the exact location of the tumour. Other imaging tests ordered may include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination, myelogram, spine computed tomography scan, spine magnetic resonance imaging scan and spine X-ray. In addition to these tests, a bone scan and positron emission tomography (PET) scan are also done. Once the tumour is found, a biopsy is performed to identify the type of tumour and provide necessary treatment.

Treatments for Spinal Tumours

Medications such as corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling around the spinal cord. External braces are also used to provide support and control pain. 

Other treatments may provide permanent relief.

  • Surgery: It is performed to remove the tumour confined only to one portion of the spine. Some of the complications observed after surgery are temporary loss of sensation, nerve tissue damage and bleeding. To minimise nerve damage, electrodes are used to test different nerves of the spine. In some cases, sound waves are used to break tumours and the remaining tissues are removed. 
  • Radiation therapy: This method uses high beam of radiations to destroy the cancer cells. It is used after surgery to destroy the remaining cancer cells. An advanced device called cyberknife, painless and non-invasive treatment that passes high doses of radiations to the targeted areas of the spinal cord, is used in radiotherapy. 
  • Chemotherapy: A combination of anti-cancer drugs is used to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used to shrink, stop the division and prevent the cancer cells from spreading to the surrounding tissues. The drugs enter the bloodstream and reach the cancer cells to destroy them. 
  • Physical therapy: Exercises may be needed to improve muscle strength and the ability to function independently.
  • The Society of British Neurological Surgeons
  • British Orthopaedic Association
  • British Association of Spine Surgeons
  • North American Spine Society