Your spine is comprised of a complex series of discs, vertebrae and nerves, meaning that the development of a spinal tumor is usually very unique in its location, what structures it affects and how treatment needs to proceed. Today, we take a look at the different types of spinal tumors, and we explain how most tumors are treated based on their location.
3 Types of Spinal Tumors
Although you can break down spinal tumors into smaller subsets based on different factors, we’re going to simplify the process and stick to three main types. They are:
Vertebral Column Tumors: Vertebral column tumors, as the name implies, involve the bones of the vertebral column. The vast majority of vertebral column tumors are metastatic, meaning the primary tumor originated in another organ and has spread to the vertebral column through the bloodstream. For men, the most common metastatic spinal tumors are from the prostate and lung, while in women they often arise as a result of a tumor in the breast or lung. Some examples of vertebral column tumors include osteoid osteoma, osteoblastoma, chordoma and Ewing’s sarcoma.
Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors: These tumors are located inside the spinal dura, but outside the spinal cord. The most common type of intradural-extramedullary are meningiomas and nerve sheath tumors. Meningiomas tend to form in the dura mater, which is a thin membrane that encompasses the spinal fluid and spinal cord. More common in middle-aged and elderly women, these types of tumors are typically non-cancerous. Nerve sheath tumors – typically schwannomas and neurofibromas – develop out of the nerve roots as they exit the spinal cord, and like meningiomas are typically benign.
Intramedullary Tumors: An intramedullary tumors arises inside the spinal cord. They typically develop from glia cells within the spine cord. There are a number of subsets of intramedullary tumors, but the majority of them develop in the cervical portion of the spinal cord, and most of them are non-cancerous.
Treatment Of Spinal Tumors
As we’ve noted throughout this post, treatment of spinal tumors varies based on the exact location and whether or not the tumor is cancerous. That being said, here’s how some of these tumors are treated:
Vertebral Column Tumor Treatment: For metastatic tumors that have spread from other areas, removing the spinal tumor won’t solve the whole problem. Through treatments like radiosurgery and chemotherapy, the tumor can be shrunk or removed to maintain stability of the spine while doctors also work on the primary tumor. If the spinal tumor compresses the spinal cord or destabilizes the spine, surgical treatment is often best. Surgery involves removing a portion of the vertebrae with the tumor and stabilizing the spine with bone grafts of metallic implants.
Intradural-Extramedullary Tumor Treatment: Since these tumors arise inside the dura, the majority of intradural-extramedullary spinal tumors are treated with a total spinal resection (removal), which usually produces fantastic results. A small portion of these tumors may not be able to be fully removed during surgery, and if that’s the case, they are treated with postoperative radiation therapy to shrink any remaining tumor.
Intramedullary Tumor Treatment: When these tumors develop inside the spinal cord, surgeons work to relieve the tumor with a full surgical excision. Like most tumor removals, the ultimate goal of surgery is remove the tumor while preserving maximum neurological function. Depending on how connected the tumor is to the spinal cord, the surgeon will either remove the entire tumor or leave portions if it is too risky to remove the entire section. If the whole tumor can’t be removed, postoperative radiation again helps shrink the remaining tumor to keep it from causing neurological problems.