A spine tumor is a benign or malignant tumor that occurs anywhere in the spine. Often, tumors appear in the middle of the back (thoracic spine) or the low back (lumbar spine), though some people have tumors up by the neck (cervical spine). Tumors also affect the spinal column (usually in one of your vertebra), spinal cord, and nerve roots.
If the tumor starts in your spine, we call it a primary spine tumor. If it starts elsewhere and moves to your spine, it is a secondary spine tumor. Spinal tumor rarely affects the intervertebral disc.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
A spine tumor typically causes pain in the spine itself. It can also cause pain, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs by putting pressure on the nerves of your spinal cord. Unlike the pain associated with degenerative disc disease, pain from a spine tumor usually affects you when you’re resting at night and often in the middle of the back.
Risk factors for a spine tumor include increased age, family or personal history of cancer, and smoking. If this describes you, and you have pain in your spine, you should probably see a doctor and get checked. Early detection is the most important step to successful treatment.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When you arrive at Mount Sinai, a spine tumor specialist will conduct a thorough physical examination to diagnose your condition and see how urgent the situation is. Usually, weakness requires quick response while we can treat pain and numbness more conservatively. Your doctor may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or another imaging test, to provide additional information.
If you do have a tumor, our spine tumor team will evaluate how far it has spread. A team of surgeons, oncologists, radiation specialists, and rehabilitation specialists will work together to develop your treatment plan. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or some combination of the three. We may also use pain medications, steroids, and physical therapy. Our goal is to treat the tumor as effectively as possible, while improving quality of life and allowing you to continue to function normally.
Tumors often weaken your spine by destroying key stabilizing components. If that happens, your doctor may use metal instruments, such as screws and rods, to strengthen your spine. We use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible, which allow for a quicker recovery time than open surgery.
We perform the following surgeries for spine tumors:
- Fusion helps us stabilize any vertebrae, the bones of the spine, which need it. We typically perform fusion by implanting titanium screws and rods through either an "open" or minimally invasive procedure.
- Instrumentation involves implanting metal screws and rods into the spine to stabilize it. The metal is typically titanium, which allows patients to safely undergo postoperative MRIs if needed.
- Laminectomy involves removing some bone, ligament, or disc to give us access to a spine tumor using either "open" or minimally invasive techniques.
- Minimally invasive diskectomy fusion refers to procedures done through smaller incisions, with a shorter hospital stay, less post-operative pain, and quicker recovery. It is not appropriate in every case or for every patient.
- Combination minimally invasive surgery and radiation or chemotherapy. When appropriate, we may also use resection of the tumor.
- Sacrectomy is a technically challenging surgery to remove the last bone of the spine (sacrum) in an effort to cure certain aggressive types of tumors.
- Vertebrectomy/corpectomy is surgical removal of the vertebra that contains the spine tumor.