Spinal tumours are often diagnosed late as they are uncommon and symptoms of spinal tumour are caused by many other and more common conditions. If you have symptoms suggestive of any lesion or disease involving the spinal cord your doctor may recommend tests. Some of the tests that may be done include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of spine, computerized tomography (CT) of spine, myelogram, and biopsy.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI is a painless and non-invasive test. The MRI machine uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create images of body part that is being examined in this case the spine. MRI provides accurate details of the spinal cord and nerves and bone as compared to computerized tomography (CT) scans. If needed a contrast agent is injected into a vein and then images are taken. The images obtained after injecting the contrast can helps to highlight certain tissues and structures that may not be seen on a plain MRI scan.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan of spine: CT scan machines use a narrow beam of radiation to create images of body part that is being examined. It is a painless and non-invasive test which provides good visual detail of the spine. During CT scan a series of detailed pictures of spine are taken. A computer then combines these pictures into images and a trained doctor can examine the images for abnormalities (such as cancerous growth, infection or any other pathology). In some cases the doctor may inject a contrast agent into a vein (mostly in the arm) and then take images. MRI and CT scan can help to stage the spinal tumour (i.e. determine the extent of spread and size of tumour). Staging of tumour is important to decide the treatment approach. The images obtained after injecting the contrast can make abnormal changes in the spinal canal or spinal cord more prominent.
Myelogram: During myelogram a contrast dye is injected into the spinal column. The images taken after injecting the dye (by x-ray or CT scan) can make abnormal changes in the spinal canal or spinal cord more prominent. As the test has more risks than MRI or conventional CT scan and fails to provide more information it is not preferred as the first choice for diagnosis of spinal tumours. It may help to detect identify compressed nerves and may be considered for people who can't have an MRI.
Biopsy: This is a gold standard test to diagnose cancer in a growth or mass. Tissue sample from the mass or growth is taken and send for examination. The tissue sample is examined by a pathologist (a doctor who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and tissues under a microscope) for cancerous changes. Biopsy is helpful to diagnose the type and grade of cancer as well—these information are helpful to decide treatment.
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