Tumors in your spine may be primary (start in the spine) or metastatic (spread from elsewhere in the body. At St. Joseph’s Hospital, we provide expert treatment for many types of spine cancer.

Types of Spine Cancer

Primary tumors that start in the spine are rare. Most cases spread from another area of the body affected by cancer, often the lungs, breasts, prostate kidneys or thyroid.

There are many different types of spine cancer. Tumors are labeled by the type of cells they affect, such as whether they grow inside (intramedullary) or outside (extramedullary) the spinal cord.

What Causes Spine Cancer?

The cause of most primary spinal tumors is unknown. Experts suspect defective genes may play a role. In some cases, spine tumors can be linked to inherited diseases, such as neurofibromatosis.

Symptoms of Spine Cancer

Symptoms may differ depending on the type and location of a spinal tumor. Some common symptoms are very similar to the signs of other, non-cancerous spinal conditions, such as arthritis and degenerative disk disease. That’s why it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause of severe back pain.

Symptoms of spine tumors include:

  • Back pain
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in arms or legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Difficulty walking

How is Spine Cancer Diagnosed?

Your doctor will order more than one test to determine whether you have a spinal tumor. Common diagnostic tests include:

  • Biopsy: Procedure that takes a tissue sample from your spine to be tested in a lab for signs of cancer
  • X-ray: Imaging test that takes pictures of your bones to find signs of damage
  • MR/CT scans: Imaging tests that take detailed pictures of your spinal disc and nerves
  • Bone scan: Imaging test that uses a radioactive tracer that collects in the bones to identify areas that may be affected by cancer
  • PET scan: Imaging test that takes 3-D pictures of the spine to help locate tumors, using a radioactive tracer that collects in tissues

Treatments for Spine Cancer

Your personal treatment plan will depend on the type of spine tumor you have, where it is located and its size, among other factors. In many cases, we recommend radiation therapy, with or without surgery.

Radiation can treat tumors too large to remove surgically. It’s an effective tool for shrinking tumors before surgery, or making sure they do not recur (return) post-surgery.

However, surgically removing spine tumors is often the most successful treatment option. Learn more about spine surgery at St. Joseph’s. Learn more about additional services at our Cancer Institute.

Contact Us

For more information or for a physician referral, please call (813) 644-4322.