Spinal Tumours

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What are the symptoms of a spinal tumour?

Typically unremitting back pain, most commonly thoracic and worse at night. Individual may also feel generally unwell with loss of appetite, energy and weight.

There may be a history of cancer in the last 5 years.

Less commonly spinal cord compression from a tumour can lead to weakness in the legs or arms, with loss of control of bladder and bowels.

What is the prognosis and treatment options?

This depends on the type of tumour which has normally spread (metastases) from another organ such as breast, lung, prostate, kidney or thyroid.   An X-ray guided biopsy may be required to make a histological diagnosis.

Metastatic spinal disease is not curable however a combination of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy is often used to relieve symptoms and prolong life. Advances in chemotherapy have led to patients living longer.

The spinal tumour may weaken the bone leading to fracture and spinal collapse called instability. The tumour may also compress the spinal cord leading to weakness in the arms or legs and loss of bladder and bowel control. Surgery may be offered to stabilise the spine and decompress/debulk the tumour pressing on the spinal cord.

Surgery typically uses metal screws and rods sometimes with cement to strengthen the spine. It is often possible to perform this through a minimally invasive approach, which reduces post operative complications and speeds recovery. Surgery is aimed at reducing pain, keeping the patient upright and walking, and maintaining control of bladder and bowels.

Like all cancers, metastatic disease in the spine is best managed by a multidisciplinary team approach with oncologists, surgeons and palliative care specialists, discussing and planning the best management of each individual case.

Benign tumours of the nerve, or supporting cells are sometimes incidental findings on MRI scans. It may be possible to remove these completely if they are causing symptoms or enlarging.