Spinal Tumors Surgery

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What is a spinal tumor?

A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth that occurs within the spinal canal or the bones of the spine. These growths can either be cancerous or non-cancerous. In some case, tumors from other parts of the body can spread to the to the vertebrae and the region around the spinal cord. In some cases, they can affect and spread to the spinal cord itself.

Cancerous tumors are known to grow at a more progressive rate that non-cancerous tumors.

There are two major types of spinal tumors namely:

  • Intramedullary – is known to start with the cells of the spinal cord they are known as astrocytomas and ependymomas.
  • Extramedullary tumors – starts within the cells that surround the spinal cord. They can cause compression of the spinal cord nerves. Examples of these tumors include schwannomas, nurofibromas and meniniomas.

Why spinal tumors occur

The reason for the development of spinal tumors is not clear but it can be as a result of abnormal genetic or environmental influences.
People who are more prone to develop spinal cord tumors include:
  • People with Nurofibromitosis 2 – as a hereditary disorder, these tumors are non-cancerous and are caused due to a family history of spinal tumors. Nurofibromitosis 2 can cause hearing loss in one or both ears.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease – this disease is a result of non-cancerous blood vessel tumors that develop within the brain as well as in the retina of the eye, spinal cord as well as renal glands of the kidneys.
  • History of cancer – a patient with a history of cancer or cancer within the family can develop spinal tumors. They can be caused by breast cancers, lung cancer, prostate cancer and multi myeloma.

Symptoms of spinal tumors

A spinal tumor can showcase various symptoms which include:

  • Muscles weakness and numbness in arms and legs
  • Pain from the back can radiate from the back through to the neck, legs and or arms
  • Difficulty urinating
  • General loss of sensation
  • Change of bowel habits
  • Various degrees of paralysis

Back pain is a common symptom of spinal tumors (cancerous and non-cancerous). Sometimes treatment isn’t enough to soothe the severe pain.

You should see a doctor when you experience back pain that is persistent, severe, occurs even when you’re not active, worsens at night and if you have a family history of cancer within the back.

NB! You should not hesitate to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience severe and progressive numbness of the limbs as well as a change in bladder and bowel function.

A spinal tumor can compress the nerves in the spinal cord and lead to immobility, numbness, and weakness of limbs.Whether cancerous or not, they can also result in permanent nerve damage.

Diagnosis of a spinal tumor

A series of tests and scans can help establish whether or not the patient has a spinal tumor. These diagnostic procedures may include the following:

  • Spinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – radio magnetic waves produce imagery of bone tumors, spinal cord, and nerves.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) – A CT scan makes use of a narrow beam of radiation to generate detailed imaging of your spine.
  • Biopsy – Biopsy is the use of sample tissue of the spinal tumor used to study under a microscope to have a closer look and the results thereof can help determine the treatment needed.

Treatment of a spinal tumor

Before treatment commences, doctors take into account the patients’ age as well as their health. Sometimes the complete removal of the tumor is the only way to treat it but in some cases removing the tumor could cause damage to the spinal cord or nerves. The location and type of tumor are very significant factors when it comes to treatment and removal. 

Treatment methods include: 

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) – computers are used to focus high beam radiation to the location of the tumor. SRS is limited to specific tumors and size thereof.
  • Chemotherapy – chemotherapy is often used to kill cancerous cells and sometimes it is used in conjunction with radiation therapy.
  • Medication – Corticosteroid medication is often prescribed to treat the swelling that occurs as a result of chemotherapy and radiation.

For spinal tumors that can be removed safely, meaning there is little chance of nerve damage, spinal tumor surgery is often the recommended treatment. Technology has made it possible, through the use of improved instruments and better techniques, to gain access to tumors that were once thought to be inoperable. High-powered microscopes enable surgeons to distinguish between healthy tissue and tumors using microsurgery, and they can also minimize the risk of nerve damage during surgery by using electrodes to test various nerves. In some cases, sound waves can be used to break tumors apart and remove them.   

Even with all the advances in technology and new techniques, not all tumors can be completely removed. When this is the case, radiation or chemotherapy may be used in addition to surgery.

Recovering from an operation on your spine may take several weeks, depending on what procedure was performed. Some side effects of spinal surgery include temporary numbness or loss of sensation, bleeding or nerve damage.

Alternative treatments include acupuncture to alleviate the pain associated with the spine tumor as well as prescribed medication and herbal remedies.

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