Recently, Dr Amit Jotwani (Head of Medical Services and Co-founder, Onco.com) organized an “Onco.com PaathShaala” session, teaching the team about the human anatomy and the types and sub-types of site-specific cancers that originate in different parts of the body. In this piece, we’re examining Tumors that originate in the Spinal region with insights drawn from the session.
What Are Spinal Tumors?
Spinal Tumors generally originate and develop in and around the human spinal cord, and such tumors are termed primary. Secondary Spinal Tumors are those that originate elsewhere in the body and metastasize to the spine.
Benign Spinal Tumors
The term ‘benign’ is used by doctors when a particular tumor is unlikely to spread to others parts of the body. However, Benign Spinal Tumors can continue to be a significant problem depending upon their location and size, and how they affect adjacent structures and blood vessels.
Fortunately, most benign tumors can be treated successfully.
Malignant Spinal Tumors
Usage of the term “malignant” indicates that a specific tumor of the spine is likely to spread to other parts of the body, making it extremely difficult to treat.
Symptoms Arising From Spinal Tumors
Like most deadly cancers, Spinal Tumors are dangerous by virtue of symptoms not appearing early, along with the onset of the disease. If the following symptoms persist after regular medical care, patients should consider getting screened for Spinal Tumors.
General Symptoms Indicative Of A Spinal Tumor
- Back pain that worsens despite receiving treatment
- Constant fatigue
- Recurring pain coupled with unexplained weight loss
- Numbness/Weakness that extends to the legs
- Loss of bowel movement coordination
- Loss of bladder control
Types Of Spinal Tumors
There are three known types of Spinal Tumors:
- Intradural Extramedullary Tumors
These tumors usually grow inside the spinal canal, but outside the spinal cord and all adjacent nerves.
Examples of cancers that are associated with Intradural Extramedullary Tumors include:
- Intramedullary Tumors
These tumors usually grow inside the spinal cord and are much more dangerous by virtue of their proximity to nerves.
Examples of cancers that are associated with Intramedullary Tumors include:
- Epidural Tumors
These tumors usually grow between the bones (vertebrae) of the human spinal column, and the dural sacsurrounding the spinal cord and nerve roots.
Diagnosis For Malignant Spinal Tumors
For Spinal Tumors, a tumor biopsy is the most effective diagnostic method, which lets doctors know whether a tumor is cancerous or benign. In this process, a small part of tissue is extracted from the tumor using a needle, or removed surgically.
This tissue extract is examined under a microscope to determine the presence of cancer cells.
Treatment For Spinal Tumors
The general treatment modality for Spinal Tumors (whether benign or malignant) is surgical removal of the tumor, followed by chemotherapy/radiotherapy. In this process, a surgical oncologist first removes as much of the tumor as possible, without causing neurological problems. This is a challenging surgery, because the spinal cord is directly linked to the central nervous system, and is responsible for key functions such as motor control.
In recent times, a process known as METRx Tumor Removal has gained prominence as a minimally invasive procedure. The outcome of such surgeries depends on an accurate understanding of the size and location of the Spinal Tumor.
The primary objectives of a tumor resection surgery are to reduce any pain arising out of the Spinal Tumor, keep neurological functions undistrubed and to provide stability to the spine.
Post surgery, patients are allowed to engage in non-strenuous walking/sitting, but are advised against lifting heavy weights and are generally fitted with a back-brace or a corset to keep the spine stable.
After two to three weeks of surgically removing the tumor, patients are usually subjected to 15-20 minutes of radiotherapy per day for up to six weeks, to completely rid the body of “leftover” tumor cells.
Once post-surgical scans reveal that the patient is cancer-free, they are advised to undertake pain management therapy and/or seek chiropractic assistance to help them get back to a normal lifestyle.