Spinal Tumors

A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of one’s spine. It may be cancerous or noncancerous (benign). Tumors that affect the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are often a result of cancer metastases from other organs. About half of metastatic spinal tumors are from lung cancer.

Primary Tumors

Some primary tumors originate within the spinal cord itself. There are two main types:

Intramedullary Tumors

These tumors arise within the spinal cord as astrocytomas or ependymomas. Please reference the brain tumor section.

Extramedullary Tumors

These tumors develop within the supporting network of cells around the spinal cord. Although they don’t begin within the spinal cord itself, these types of tumors may affect spinal cord function by causing spinal cord compression and other problems. Examples of extramedullary tumors that can affect the spinal cord include schwannomas, meningiomas and neurofibromas.

  • Schwannomas: This tumor is a benign nerve-sheath tumor composed of Schwann cells, which normally produce the insulating myelin sheath covering peripheral nerves. The tumors may put pressure on spinal nerves but are relatively slow growing. When multiple there may be a clinical concern of neurofibromatosis type 2 (see NF Center for details); such patients also tend to have multiple meningiomas, and may have ependymomas.
  • Neurofibromas: This benign nerve-sheath tumor in the peripheral nervous system maybe solitary or multiple. When multiple, it is often seen in a background of neurofibromatosis type 1, an autosomal dominant genetically inherited disease, and they can result in a range of symptoms (see NF Center for details).

Spinal tumors of any kind can lead to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis. Treatment for a spinal tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.