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Home   »   Conditions  »  Spinal Tumors

What are Spinal Tumors?

Understanding the terms we are using when talking about spinal tumors is important. A tumor occurs when cells grow more than they should in an area or do not die when they are supposed to. A tumor that is located in the spine is a spinal tumor. Benign tumors are not cancerous and will not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous and they will spread to adjacent tissue and other parts of the body. An aggressive tumor spreads quickly and a slow-growing tumor spreads slowly. A primary tumor means the growth is where it started. A secondary tumor or metastatic tumor means that the growth came from another, primary site. Metastasis is the name for the spreading of the tumor.

Spinal tumors can be benign or malignant and can cause a range of symptoms from pain to muscle weakness and sensory loss. Diagnosis is based on physical exam, laboratory tests and imaging studies. Treatment depends on the symptoms and type, growth rate and location of tumor and can include medication, radiation therapy and surgery.


Spinal tumors can have a wide range of symptoms depending on type, location, size, and rate of growth. Slow growing tumors may have no symptoms for years. Pain is usually the first sign of a spinal tumor at the site of the growth. Symptoms will depend on the location of the stenosis. Lower back spinal tumors may have pain, weakness and numbness extending from your back to your buttocks, thighs, and down to your calves. If the spinal tumor is in your neck then you may have the same symptoms but in the neck, upper back and arms. You may have aching, tingling or burning sensations in the affected area. You may have bowel or urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, or numbness in the groin and buttocks area. Movement, walking sitting and certain bending or twisting movements may worsen the pain. In patients with known cancer in another part of the body, new spinal pain can indicate metastasis or fractures from your weakened spine.


Most causes for spinal tumors are unknown. Benign cancer cells do not understand normal boundaries and their growth may continue in all directions. Some tumors may have risk factors but the reason one cell becomes a cancer and another does not is rarely known. Determining the type of cancer allows selection of the most effective treatment.

About 40% of patients with a cancer existing in the body will have metastasis to the spine. These include spread from the breast, prostate, lung, kidney and colon.


Your doctor will take a complete history and physical exam to evaluate you for your source of your pain and discomfort. Your nerve function will be evaluated along with and muscle strength and skin sensation. Abnormal blood laboratory tests may indicate a cancerous process. X-rays may be used to look for fractures or tumors. Studies that may be used for diagnosis include a computed tomography (CT) scan uses the electromagnetic energy of X-rays to provide a detailed look at the bony anatomy spine and tissue around it. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create a detailed picture of soft tissue of the spine, spinal cord and spinal nerves. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan can show areas with high cell growth or cancer spread.


Figuring out what cells are growing in the tumor is important. A biopsy provides tissue that can be evaluated to determine the diagnosis. Sometimes the entire tumor can be removed as a biopsy. Radiation or radiosurgery may shrink the tumor. For tumors that compress the spinal cord or destabilize the spine, surgery can both remove the tumor and stabilize the spine.

Removal of a metastatic tumor will not cure the cancer. However, using the combination of radiation treatment, radiosurgery (very focused radiation), chemotherapy and selective surgery may reduce tumor size as well as slow or stop growth. Pain relief is sometimes possible as well as stabilization of the spine. Decompression surgery can sometimes remove the spinal tumor followed by stabilization with rods and screws. Radiation therapy can decrease pain and slow growth is some cases when the tumor cannot be removed.

Contact Us

Spinal tumors can be painful and frightening. The neurosurgeons of Norelle Health are highly trained and skilled in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of spinal tumors. Our neurosurgeons can provide the optimal treatment. Neurosurgery is considered essential by insurances and should be covered with your plan. As out-of-network providers, we will check your benefits for you and let you know what they are so there are no surprises. We use an individualized treatment plan for your concerns to provide a personalized holistic plan of care. If you would like assistance, please feel free to contact us (link to contact page) or call our office (link to phone number).

Meet Norelle Health

Moustafa Mourad, MD, FACS is double board-certified in Head and Neck Surgery and Facial Plastic Surgery and Reconstruction. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He treats many conditions,... Learn More »