Spinal Cord Tumor: Symptoms and Treatements

Friday, July 24, 2009

In general tumour is an abnormal mass of tissue due to abnormal division and growth of cells. Tumour does not connote cancer. Spinal cord is the continuation of the brainstem downwards from the junction of the head and neck down to the lower back.

Spinal cord can be compressed by lesions/tumours that arise from the covering layers (dura/arachnoid) or by tumours within spinal cord per se.

Based on the location spinal cord tumors are generally called
  1. Extradural (outside the dura)-they constitute about 80% of tumours
  2. Intradural Extramedullary (inside the dura but outside the cord)-this group amounts to about 15%
  3. Intramedullary (from within the spinal cord) accounts for the remaining 5%
The occurrence of spinal cord tumors is generally rare and it can leave a patient with neurological damage resulting in physical disabilities due to the pressure exerted by the tumour on the spinal cord. Early diagnosis and effective treatment is the key to the successful treatment and recovery without physical disability.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumor

The Symptoms of Spinal cord Tumour depends on the type of tumor and its location. In almost all kinds of tumor ,pain is a common early feature that often precedes the onset of any neurological disturbance. Some of the common symptoms include: Pain in the back of neck and radiating to upper limbs or pain radiating around chest wall.
  1. Forward or backward neck movement causing ‘electric shock’ or tingling radiating down through the body to the extremities.
  2. Loss or disturbance of sensation to touch/pain/heat in the upper/lower extremities or trunk.
  3. Lower back pain ,shooting pain that runs down the legs
  4. Distinct muscular weakness causing falls/limp due to weakness in legs or difficulty in writing/doing work that involves fine movements of hand/fingers.
  5. In the advanced stage the bladder and the bowel functions will be affected.
Causes of Spinal Cord Tumor

The exact cause of Spinal cord Tumour is still a subject of discussion. Many researches have attributed the cause to genetic factors.In developmental/congenital disorders it is observed that tumours generally develop from the arachnoid layer of the spinal cord or the supporting glial (non-neuronal cells that provide support and nutrition) cells.

Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Tumor

The Diagnosis consists of an evaluation of the symptoms followed by a through neurological examination and then imaging by MRI/CT of the affected part based on clinical localization. However whole spine screening image has to be done if multiple lesions noted or skip lesions suspected.

Treatments in Spinal Cord Tumor

The Treatment of spinal cord tumors is far more effective when the tumor is diagnosed early. The treatment varies on the type of tumor, the location and the extent of involvement but most require surgical Excision. All spinal cord surgeries need to be done with intra operative spinal cord monitoring.

Spinal tumors that are not intramedullary can be removed completely with excellent recovery.
Intramedullary tumors may require radiation/chemotherapy after surgical excision depending on the grade of the tumor.

Getting treated early is the key

Early diagnosis and surgical intervention prevents irreversible spinal cord damage due to chronic pressure and hastens neurological recovery, minimizes physical disability. Newer techniques are in the offing including stereotactic radiations but these are still in its infancy.

Dr. Deshpande.V. Rajakumar, M.CH,
Consultant Neurosurgeon,
Wockhardt Hospitals

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