Spinal Cord Tumors

A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or the bones of your spine. It may be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Whether cancerous or not, a spinal tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability.

There are two main types of tumors that may affect the spinal cord:

  • Intramedullary tumors begin in the cells within the spinal cord
  • Extramedullary tumors develop in the cells around the spinal cord. They may affect spinal cord function by causing spinal cord compression.


Your symptoms will depend on the location and type of spinal tumor.
They may include:

  • Back pain, sometimes radiating to other parts of your body, is a common early symptom of both noncancerous and cancerous spinal tumors
  • Loss of sensation, especially in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Muscle weakness


Treatment options for most spinal tumors include:

  • Some spinal tumors may be discovered before they cause symptoms and if they’re small, noncancerous and aren't growing, monitoring them may be all you need.
  • Surgery is the treatment of choice for most doctors and patients for tumors that can be removed with a lower risk of spinal cord or nerve injury damage. Newer techniques and equipment allow neurosurgeons to reach tumors that were once considered inaccessible. And high-powered microscopes make it easier to distinguish tumor from healthy tissue.
  • Not all tumors can be removed completely. When the tumor can't be removed completely, surgery may be followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy or both.
  • Radiation therapy may be used to after surgery to eliminate remnants of tumors. It’s also an option if your tumor is inoperable or surgery is too risky. It may also be the first step for tumors that travel to the spine from other cancers of the body.
  • If your tumor is cancerous, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. It may be used alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

The important thing to remember is that our team will make sure you understand each option and help you determine which is best for you.