Spinal Tumor

What Is Spinal Tumor?

Spinal tumor is either spread of a known cancer to the spine or a new cancer in the spine. Benign tumors (ones that are not cancerous) can also be found in the spine. The bone is the third most common organ affected by metastatic tumor, after the lungs and the liver. Breast, prostate, lung, renal, and blood-borne cancers are most likely to spread to the spine.

Signs and Symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom in approximately 90% of patients with spinal tumors. It is often difficult to distinguish pain caused by tumor from typical back pain. Pain that continues to worsen despite treatment or is associated with other symptoms such as tiredness and weight loss may be a clue. Also, pain caused by tumors is typically not related to activity and may be worse at night.

Neurologic signs and symptoms can be associated with spinal tumors. Tumors can grow and put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Patients may experience pain running down the arms or the legs from a pinched nerve. When there is severe compression of the spinal cord, loss of bowel and bladder control can be seen. Sometimes, tumor can cause fracture of the spine; compression fractures are common in patients with spinal tumors.


Patients with spinal tumors have either known cancer, history of cancer without prior metastasis (spread of that cancer), or no prior diagnosis of cancer. In addition to complete history and physical examination, Dr. Cho will obtain and review various radiographic tests (x-rays, MRI, CT) with you. A biopsy may be needed to correctly diagnose what kind of tumor it is.

Non-surgical Treatment

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for patients with metastatic disease. In addition, radiotherapy is offered to most spinal tumor patients. Steroids are often used. Dr. Cho believes in a team approach to treat patients with spinal tumors. He will coordinate with oncologists, radiologists, and other doctors who specialize in taking care of cancer patients to offer the best and most appropriate treatment for each patient.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is typically considered when one of the following is seen:

  • Neurologic (spinal cord or nerve) compression
  • Unstable spine, including fracture
  • Unrelenting pain
  • Need for surgical biopsy

Surgical treatments that are offered range from minimally invasive vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty to spinal decompression and fusion procedures.

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