Common Terms

The following definitions should help you understand your course of treatment should you be diagnosed with a spine tumor:

  • Astrocytoma. A tumor found in the main tissue of the spinal cord.
  • Benign spine tumor. A noncancerous growth in the spine, which may still require excision because of its growth in a critical location.
  • Cervical spine. The portion of the spine in the neck region.
  • Chordoma. A specific type of spinal tumor that is typically found in cervical and sacral spine regions. It is usually treated by excising the tumor.
  • Degenerative spine disease. "Wear-and-tear" changes in the bones, ligaments, and discs of the spine, which can lead to pain, weakness or numbness.
  • Ependymoma. A tumor found in the main tissue of the spinal cord. It is treated by completely excising the tumor.
  • Extramedullary spinal cord tumor. A tumor originating outside the spinal cord tissue that compresses the spinal cord from its external position. It is treated by completely excising the tumor.
  • Fusion. Surgically stabilizing or eliminating movement between two vertebrae (spinal bones). Fusion is typically performed when the spine has been structurally weakened and is dangerous or causing symptoms. Fusion may be performed with or without incorporating metal into the spine, depending on the circumstances.
  • Instability. A condition in which your spine is structurally weakened and therefore unable to support your body when walking or sitting without producing pain or other symptoms. Spinal instability can result from a blow to the body (trauma) or from "wear and tear" changes in the spine as you age. Spinal instability may be treated by providing additional structural support, known as "stabilizing" the spine.
  • Instrumentation. Implanting metal screws and rods into the spine in order to stabilize the spine. The metal is typically titanium, which allows patients to safely have postoperative MRIs if needed.
  • Intervertebral disc. Thought of as the "shock absorber" of the spine. The discs sit between each of the vertebra (bones) and provide both stability and flexibility.
  • Intramedullary spinal cord tumor. A tumor originating from within the spinal cord tissue.
  • Laminectomy. The removal of bone, ligament, or disc to allow access to a spine tumor or take pressure off the nerve roots or spinal cord. A laminectomy can be performed with "open" or minimally invasive techniques.
  • Lumbar spine. That portion of the spine in the lower back.
  • Malignant spine tumor. A cancerous or aggressive growth in the spine. A malignant spine tumor is treated by completely excising the tumor.
  • Metastasis. The spread of a malignant tumor from one part of your body to another.
  • Myelopathy. Symptoms related to compression of the spinal cord, such as weakness, numbness, pain, paralysis, and loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Nerve sheath tumor. A tumor, often benign, that originates from the nerve membrane.
  • Primary spine tumor. A tumor that originates in the spine itself. It may be benign or malignant. It is treated by completely excising the tumor.
  • Radiculopathy. Symptoms related to compression of nerve roots, such as weakness, numbness, pain, paralysis, and loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Sacrectomy. A technically challenging surgery to remove the last bone of the spine (sacrum) in order to cure certain aggressive types of tumors.
  • Sarcoma. An aggressive bone tumor that can be found in the spine.
  • Schwannoma/neurofibroma. A tumor, such as a "nerve sheath" tumor, that originates in the membranes overlaying individual nerves.
  • Secondary spine tumor. A tumor that originated in another part of the body and spread to the spine. It is often malignant and is often seen in patients with a known history of cancer. It is treated by completely excising the tumor.
  • Spondylolysthesis. "Slippage" of one vertebra over another, destabilizing the spine.
  • Thoracic spine. That portion of the spine in the middle of the back, between the shoulder blades, and covering the chest. The thoracic spine is located between the cervical spine and the lumbar spine.
  • Vertebrae. The bones of the spine. The vertebrae are normally aligned, one on top of the other, with discs in between acting as shock absorbers.

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