Spine tumor fundamentals

Spine tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the spinal column. Tumors that originate in the spine are called primary tumors and are rare. They can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The majority of tumors results from uncontrolled growth among cells that reside in the spinal column while some tumors are related to a specific disease or to radiation exposure. However, the cause behind most spine tumors is unknown and they are neither contagious nor preventable.

A secondary or metastatic tumor results from spine cancer originating in another part of the body. This is a malignant tumor and is classified by its location in the spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacrum). The types of cancer that most frequently lead to a spine tumor include:

The most common symptom of a spine tumor is back pain that is not improved by rest. Other symptoms include:

Unless treated, the above spine tumor symptoms will worsen over time.

What are my treatment options for spine tumors?

Pain and swelling can be managed through the use of analgesics and steroids. Your doctor may recommend you wear a brace to increase spinal stability and minimize pain.

Depending on the type of spine tumor, the tumor's location, and your medical condition, treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgical removal of the tumor. If surgical removal is not possible due to the tumor's location, your doctor may perform embolization, which limits blood flow to the tumor.

If surgery is required, your doctor may remove all or only part of the spine tumor. Surgery is typically recommended when:

  • Other treatments have failed to relieve pain.
  • Spine stabilization is necessary.
  • Some spinal vertebrae have destructed.
  • A biopsy is needed.
  • Nerves are compressed.

Surgery involves the partial or total removal of the spine tumor. Spinal fusion may be used to reconstruct and stabilize the spine. This procedure involves joining the bones together with screws or bone grafts to provide stability.

What are the risks of spine surgery? Is spine surgery safe?

Several common risks of spine surgery include nerve injury, infection, bleeding, and stiffness. Risks of spine surgery are dependent on the individual; please discuss your risk level with your surgeon prior to surgery.

How do I prepare for spine surgery?

Quit smoking if you smoke, exercise on a regular basis to improve your recovery rate, stop taking any non-essential medications and any herbal remedies which may react with anesthetics or other medications, and ask your surgeon all the questions you may have.

What happens after spine surgery?

Post-surgery treatment may include radiation and/or chemotherapy. Analgesics are given to control pain.

How frequently should I schedule follow up appointments with my doctor following surgery?

Follow-up appointments are important, as a spine tumor can reoccur. Your doctor will inform you regarding the frequency of your follow-up appointments.

What are the Cleveland Clinic physician credentials?

  • All doctors at Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health are fellowship-trained and board-certified or board-eligible in orthopaedic surgery, medical spine or neurosurgery. In addition, our surgeons have subspecialty training and years of experience in spine surgery.
  • All Cleveland Clinic staff radiologists are board-certified or board-eligible in radiology or have the international equivalent.
  • All Cleveland Clinic staff rehabilitation specialists are board-certified or board-eligible in physical medicine and rehabilitation, or have the international equivalent.
  • All Cleveland Clinic staff pain management specialists are board-certified or board-eligible in pain management or have the international equivalent.

How do I make an appointment?

Call 216.444.2225 (BACK) or toll free 800.223.2273, ext. 42225, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

What clinical trials are being conducted at Cleveland Clinic relating to spine tumor surgery?

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic are involved in ongoing studies that investigate new drugs and treatment approaches for managing disease. Participants in these clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. There are currently more than 1,700 active clinical studies underway.

Are there other resources that I can go to for more information on spine tumor surgery?

Patients can go to the following resources for more information on this procedure:

Why should I seek a second opinion regarding treatment for a spine tumor?

As modern medical care grows more complex, patients can feel overwhelmed. The opportunity to consult a recognized authority about a particular diagnosis and treatment can bring peace of mind at an emotionally difficult time. A second opinion may be beneficial when:

  • You are uncertain about having surgery.
  • You still have questions or concerns about your current treatment.
  • A controversial or experimental treatment is recommended.
  • You have multiple medical problems.
  • You have choices to make about treatment.

A convenient way to obtain a second opinion is eCleveland Clinic, a contemporary adaptation of Cleveland Clinic's 80-year tradition as a nationally designated referral center. An easy-to-use, secure, from-home second opinion service, e-Cleveland Clinic utilizes sophisticated Internet technology to make the skills of some of our specialists available to patients and their physicians, anytime, anywhere. With e-Cleveland Clinic's personalized access, no patient need ever to feel unsure or uninformed when faced with what could potentially be one of the most important decisions of their life. Learn more about eCleveland Clinic.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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