Spinal tumors may be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). The treatment of benign tumors depends on patient symptoms such as pain or lack of mobility, and may be treated with a watch-and-wait approach, various medications, radiation, or surgery. Malignant tumors can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, and surgery can often be used in addition to these treatments to relieve pain, stabilize the spine, and improve quality of life.
Spinal tumors that arise from the spine itself are divided into three categories, depending on where they originate in the spinal cord. Many spinal tumors are benign and cause problems largely because they interfere with nerve conduction or with the structure of the spine:
- Intradural-extramedullary: menigioma, schwannoma, neurofibroma, nerve root tumors
- Intramedullary: astrocytoma, ependymoma, lipoma
- Extradural: schwannoma, metastatic cancer
Metastatic Spinal Tumor
The skeletal spine is often a site for metastasis (spread) from cancers that originate elsewhere in the body. The vertebrae are commonly affected by metastasized lung, breast, and prostate cancers. Metastatic cancers of the bony portion of the spine can often be successfully managed with radiation therapy, especially for pain relief. Bone-building drugs, such as agents used to treat osteoporosis, along with continued chemotherapy, can also help to slow or stop the progress of bone metastases for a significant period.