Recently, Dr Amit Jotwani (Head of Medical Services and Co-founder, organised an “ 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 Tumours that originate in the spinal region with insights drawn from the session.

What Are Spinal Tumours?

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 Tumours

The term ‘benign’ is used by doctors when a particular tumor is unlikely to spread to other 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 Tumours

Usage of the term “malignant” indicates that a specific tumour of the spine is likely to spread to other parts of the body, making it extremely difficult to treat.

Symptoms Arising From Spinal Tumours

Like most deadly cancers, Spinal Tumours 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 Tumours.

General Symptoms Indicative Of A Spinal Tumour

  • 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 Tumorus:

  1. 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 Tumours include:

  • Meningioma
  • Schwannoma
  1. Intramedullary Tumours

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 Tumours include:

  • Astrocytoma
  • Ependymoma
  • Hemangioblastoma
  1. Epidural Tumours

These tumours usually grow between the bones (vertebrae) of the human spinal column, and the dural sac surrounding the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Diagnosis For Malignant Spinal Tumours

For Spinal Tumours, a tumour 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 Tumours

The general treatment modality for Spinal Tumours (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 tumour 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 Tumour 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 Tumour.

The primary objectives of a tumour resection surgery are to reduce any pain arising out of the Spinal Tumour, keep neurological functions undisturbed 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.