Spinal Tumors Overview

A spinal tumor is an abnormal tissue growth typically associated with cancer.

There are three common types of spinal tumors:

Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors

Intradural-extramedullary tumors are located within the spinal canal and under the membrane that acts as a protective covering for the spinal cord. They grow outside of the spinal nerves and are usually benign. This type of tumor may be broken down into subtypes, including:

Meningiomas: Typically benign in nature but with the potential to be malignant, these tumors occur in the area that surrounds the spinal cord. They occur most frequently in middle age and in elderly women, growing at a slow pace.

Nerve sheath tumors (schwannomas and neurofibromas): These tumors form in the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord and are generally benign and slow to grow.

Intramedullary Tumors

Generally formed from glial cells that provide support and insulation for the nervous system, this type of tumor grows from within the spinal cord or individual nerves. They are commonly found in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine and are generally benign in nature. Due to their placement, however, intramedullary tumors may be difficult to remove surgically.

Vertebral Column Tumors

A source of back pain, vertebral tumors are growths on the spinal column and are broken down into two sub-types:

Primary Tumors: Typically occurring in young adults, primary tumors form in the vertebral column from the bone or spinal discs. The majority of primary spinal tumors are rare and grow at a slow pace.

Metastatic Tumors: Malignant spinal tumors metastasize from cancers in another part of the body, producing pain that does not ease with rest and may be accompanied by other signs of illness. Metastatic spinal tumors in women have commonly spread from cancer of the breast or lung. In men, they spread from cancer in the prostate or lung.

How Are Spinal Tumors Diagnosed?

After taking a complete medical history, Dr. LaRocca will conduct a physical and neurological exam that may be coupled with diagnostic imaging tests, including:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Radiographic studies, such as X-rays of the chest, spine and digestive tract to search for tumors

What Treatments Are Available for Spinal Tumors?

Treatment options are broken down into the common types of spinal tumors:

Vertebral Column Tumors

Because the majority of these tumors are the result of advanced cancer in another area of the body, treatment for this type generally involves:

  • Managing the pain that these tumors cause by removing pressure on the nerve roots
  • Preserving neurological function by removing pressure on the spinal cord itself
  • Stabilize the spine via spinal fusion (link to surgical procedures page)

Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors and Intramedullary Tumors

With these types of tumors, the only option is to surgically remove them while preserving neurological function. This is a delicate procedure that involves avoiding damage to the nerves and may require monitoring techniques to keep track of spinal cord function throughout the procedure.

At New Jersey Neck & Back Institute (NJNBI), Dr. LaRocca and his team of experienced staff utilize the latest tools and techniques of the industry to comprehensively treat spinal tumors with professional, personalized care.