Spinal tumours

Spinal Conditions

Spinal tumours

Spinal tumours are abnormal growths of tissue that develop around the spinal cord and/or spinal column. They are relatively uncommon but can result in lasting neurological problems if not treated.


What causes spinal tumours?

Spinal tumours often do not have an apparent cause. The most common clear cause is metastasis when cancer spreads to the spine from another place in the body.

The following are also thought to contribute in some cases:

  • Genetic disorders (such as neurofibromatosis)
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents

Symptoms and signs
of spinal tumours

People suffering from spinal tumours may experience the following:

  • Back pain at the site of the tumour
  • Spinal pain radiating to other parts of the body
  • Loss of sensation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Paralysis (mild or severe)

How are spinal tumours diagnosed?


A GP will often request this as the first step in the diagnosis. If an X-ray shows an abnormality in the spine, you will usually be referred for further tests.

Bone scan

This may be used to check for metastatic cancer in the spine and to rule out other causes of bone pain.

Spinal MRI

This uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce accurate images of your spine. It may be combined with an injectable dye to highlight specific areas. MRIs might also be used to plan for a spinal tumour resection surgery.

CT scan

CT scan is used to produce a detailed image of your spine. It may be combined with an injectable dye to highlight important areas and may be combined with an MRI scan.

PET scan

An imaging test that uses radioactive material to diagnose abnormal tissues that use varying amounts of energy.


A tumour biopsy involves resecting a small portion of the spinal tumour for testing under a microscope. This can confirm the exact type of tumour: benign or cancerous, and the precise kind of cancer if applicable.

How are spinal tumours treated?

Spinal tumour treatment aims to remove the tumour entirely without damaging the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. Spinal tumour resection can be an option for this purpose.

Spinal tumour resection surgery is an effective way to treat a spinal tumour and may be recommended after diagnosis. Surgical treatment is often in conjunction with other treatment modalities recommended by your oncologist.

Surgery is sometimes considered too dangerous. If it’s believed that resecting the tumour is likely to damage your health more than help it, nonsurgical treatments may be recommended instead. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Monitoring – if the tumour is small and not causing symptoms, watching it may be sufficient. Dr Pun may recommend periodic CT or MRI scans to track its growth.
  • Chemotherapy/radiotherapy – if the tumour is cancerous, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may help shrink it before surgical removal. They may also be used after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning.

Analgesics and steroids – these can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with the spinal tumour. They may be prescribed over the counter or sometimes administered as injections.


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