Spinal tumours are masses of abnormal cells that form around the spinal cord and/or spinal column. There are three types: extradural, intramedullary and extramedullary.
Extradural spinal tumours are common and occur inside the spinal column. They are typically found on the outside of the dura, which is the spinal cord’s protective tissue.
Intradural-extramedullary spine tumours are located within the dura but outside the spinal cord. However, they potentially come into contact with the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Intramedullary tumours are located inside the spinal cord itself.
Other spinal masses
Our bodies can also form masses that look like tumours, but are not. These include epidural lipomatosis (a fat growth inside the the epidural), synovial cysts of the facet joint and arachnoid cysts.
Some medical conditions can also mimic tumours; they do not need surgery. These conditions include plaque caused by multiple sclerosis and transverse myelitis disease.
- back pain
- neck pain
- numbness or tingling caused by the tumour compressing your spinal cord or pinching your nerves
- weakness in your arms or legs
However, some people who have spinal tumours do not experience symptoms. It is important that you have regular health check ups with your GP. If appropriate, they may refer you to a neurosurgeon. Neurosurgeons specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and management of spinal tumours, and can detect them by conducting thorough physical, neurological and historical examinations.
How are spinal tumours treated?
Depending on the type and how they present in the body, a neurosurgeon may determine that regular monitoring is the best treatment. For other types of tumours and cysts, a neurosurgeon may recommend surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy – or a combination of these – to remove or de-bulk the tumour.
A neurosurgeon can also provide oral medication to help control any pain.
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- Schellinger, K. A., Propp, J. M., Villano, J. L., & McCarthy, B. J. (2008). Descriptive epidemiology of primary spinal cord tumors. Journal of neuro-oncology, 87(2), 173-179.
- Ciftdemir, M., Kaya, M., Selcuk, E., & Yalniz, E. (2016). Tumors of the spine. World journal of orthopedics, 7(2), 109.
- John Hopkins Medicine, Spinal Cancer and Spinal Tumors, Accessed 2023.