What is Spinal Cord tumours?

By  , Expert Content
Jan 17, 2013

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Spinal cord tumours are rare type of cancers which can be benign or malignant. Tumours are usually classified as benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) based on how they behave clinically. Spinal tumours can affect people of all ages, but are most common in young and middle-aged adults. A spinal  tumour develops within or near your spinal cord or within the bones of your spine.

Types of Spinal Tumours

Spinal tumours can be classified depending on their location in the spine. According to location spinal tumours are categorised as:

Extradural Spinal  tumours: These tumours arise outside the dura mater (the meningeal covering around the spinal cord) and in the bones of the spine (the vertebral column). These are the most common type of spinal tumours and most common cause of the metastasis outside the central nervous system.

Intradural tumours: These tumours grow in the dura mater. They can arise from spinal cord's arachnoid membrane (meningiomas) and in the nerve roots that extend out from the spinal cord (schwannomas and neurofibromas). They often cause nerve root involvement and spinal cord compression.

Intramedullary tumours: Tumours which develop inside the spinal cord (such as the gliomas or astrocytomas) are known as intramedullary tumours. Involvement of the spinal cord leads to swelling on the spinal cord and loss of spinal cord function below the level of the spinal  tumour.

Cause of spinal tumours

The exact cause of spinal tumours is not known. Some factors which increase a person’s risk of developing spinal tumour include:

  • Neurofibromatosis 2: This is an inherited disorder, which increases the risk of development of noncancerous tumours on or near the eighth cranial nerve (nerve related to hearing) and  tumours in the spinal cord.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease: It is a rare, multisystem disorder which increases the risk of noncancerous blood vessel  tumours (hemangioblastomas) in the brain, retina and spinal cord.
  • Exposure to radiation: Exposure to ionizing radiation (accidental like nuclear accident or for treatment of any other type of cancer) increases the risk of brain and spinal cord tumour.
  • Weak immune system (because of any reason like medications or disease).
  • Past history of cancer.

Symptoms of spinal tumours

Some common symptoms of spinal tumour are:

  • change in sensation (abnormal sensations) or loss of sensation in any part of the body
  • feeling cold in the legs, fingers or hands,
  • Itback pain when it tends to become more intense at night, on lying down, straining, coughing, and sneezing.
  • pain in leg or back which is not relieved with pain medications.
  • muscle weakness
  • progresses difficulty in walking
  • faecal incontinence and urinary incontinence (i.e loss of control over bowel and bladder movement and continence), erectile dysfunction.


Treatment aims to remove all the cancerous tissue (if possible). Treatment options for patients with spinal tumour include:

  • Monitoring—an option for tumours discovered accidentally which are not symptomatic
  • Surgery—it is the preferred treatment for spinal tumours if the tumour is operable
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery—An advance in management of spinal tumours in which high dose radiation is delivered with pinpoint accuracy to the tumour from multiple angles
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy—Considered as treatment option for spinal tumours that can’t be removed completely with surgery or if it is inoperable or as a palliative treatment (such as to control pain) or when surgery poses too great a risk.



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