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Malignant Spinal Tumors and Their Treatment
Malignant Spinal Tumors and Their Treatment

A malignant spinal tumor is, by definition, cancerous.  These tumors can be aggressive and spread to other areas of the body.  A primary spinal tumor is one that originates in the spine.  These are relatively rare.  A metastatic tumor is one that has spread to the spine from another area.  These tumors are much more common than primary tumors and may have begun as lung, breast, or prostate cancers.

Malignant tumors may form in various areas of the spine including the vertebrae, bone marrow, blood vessels, cartilage, discs, peripheral nerves, and spinal cord.  There are several types of cancerous tumors that can affect the spine.

Chondrosarcoma:

These are tumors that occur in the cartilage cells.  As primary tumors, they are uncommon.  The major symptom is bone pain that is not relieved by rest.  When located at the base of the skull, these tumors may cause headaches, dizziness, vision changes, and hearing loss.

Osteosarcoma:

This is the most common form of bone cancer and may develop as a primary tumor in the spine.  Spinal osteosarcomas are rare, representing just 3-5% of all osteosarcomas.  The sacrum and the lumbar (low back) regions are the most common areas affected.  Symptoms include pain at the tumor site, swelling, inflammation of nearby joints, nerve compression, and bone fractures.

Chordoma:

 This rare type of sarcoma develops inside the spinal column, commonly in the sacrum or at the base of the skull.  Chordomas grow slowly, often without symptoms in the beginning.  Once discovered, they can be difficult to treat because of involvement with the spinal cord, nerves, arteries, or brain stem.

Ewing’s sarcoma:

This cancer can affect the bone and surrounding tissue.  Symptoms include bone pain, swelling, unexplained fatigue, weight loss, and fever with no known cause.  Ewing’s sarcoma is rareand most often affectschildren and teenagers.  Lifelong monitoring is usually recommendedfor children who have been treated for this cancer.

Multiple myeloma:

This is a blood cancer that affects the plasma cells.  These abnormal cells can collect in the bone marrow and the outer lining of the bones of the spine.  Symptoms include bone pain, fractures, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, problems with urination, and repeated infections.

The diagnosis for a malignant spinal tumor generally involves an MRI and a CT Myelogram.  A contrast agent or dye may be injected.  Spinal angiography may be used to show blood flow to the tumor.  A biopsy is often performed to confirm the diagnosis.  Blood and urine tests are helpful in identifying multiple myeloma, as well as a bone marrow aspiration or biopsy.

Treatment for malignant spinal tumors is surgical removal, when possible.  This will depend on  the location of the tumor.  Spinal fusion and stabilization of the spine may be necessary following the tumor’s removal.  Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to treat some types of spinal tumors.

The neurosurgeons at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experienced in diagnosing and treating malignant tumors of the spine.  Roger H. Frankel, M.D. and Joshua T. Wewel, M.D. both specialize in the treatment of spinal tumors. 

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