Treatment of Spinal Cord Tumours

By  , Expert Content
Jan 17, 2013

Treatment of spinal tumours aims to remove all the cancerous tissue (if possible). But in many cases this is not possible or gets complicated because of risk of permanent damage to the surrounding nerves.

The doctor recommends treatment based on many factors such as:

  • Type and stage of the cancer (how far the cancer has spread)
  • Grade of tumour (how abnormal are the cells or how fast they grow)
  • If it is a primary tumour (arises in the spine) or has spread to the spine from elsewhere in your body
  • Your general health and preferences.

Treatment options for patients with spinal tumour include:

  • Monitoring
  • Surgery
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy.


In occasional cases the spinal tumour may be discovered accidentally before it causes any symptoms while the person is being evaluated for some other condition. Some tumours can be small and noncancerous which do not grow, press on surrounding tissues or cause any symptoms.  In these cases tumour may be monitored (watched carefully). This option is especially considered for older adults in whom surgery or radiation therapy have significant risks. Some people with small spinal tumour may decide not to take any treatment. The doctor may recommend periodic scans to monitor the tumour to help decide if treatment should be started.


This is the preferred treatment for spinal tumours that can be removed with a reasonable risk of nerve damage. Advances in surgical techniques and instruments have made it possible for neurosurgeons to operate and remove tumours that were once considered inaccessible. Neurosurgeons use high-powered microscopes to help distinguish tumour from healthy tissue. The surgeon may test the nerves during surgery with electrodes, to minimize nerve damage. However, even with advances in treatment, it is not possible to remove all spinal tumours and there is risk of damage to healthy nerve and other complications. If a spinal tumour can't be removed completely by surgery then surgery may be combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is considered 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. It is considered as the first line of treatment for metastatic tumours. Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high-powered energy beams (such as X-rays or gamma rays) to kill or destroy cancer cells and shrink spinal tumour. Radiation therapy is directed at the affected area and the cancer cells are treated or destroyed.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)

In this newer method of treatment of tumour high dose radiation is delivered with pinpoint accuracy to the tumour from multiple angles. The doctors use computers to focus radiation beams on the tumour. This approach has been shown to be effective in the treatment of brain tumours. Doctors are trying to find out the best technique, and radiation dose for treatment of spinal tumours.


Chemotherapy uses strong and potent medications to destroy or kill cancer cells. It is a standard treatment for many types of cancers. Chemotherapy may be given alone or along with radiotherapy in spinal tumours.

Other drugs

Some other drugs such as corticosteroids may be given to reduce the swelling, either following surgery or during radiation treatments.



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