What Are Spinal Tumors?
A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the spinal cord and/or spinal column. These cells grow and multiply uncontrollably. Spinal tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Spinal tumors are referred to in two ways – by the region of the spine in which they occur (areas are cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacrum) and by their location within the spine.
There are two general types of spinal tumors: primary tumors and secondary (metastatic) tumors.
- Primary spinal tumors originate in the spinal column, such as by growing in the bones, discs, nerves, or other elements within the spine. Primary spinal tumors are usually benign and occur in younger people. Hemangiomas are among the most common benign primary spinal tumors and osteosarcomas and multiple myeloma are two of the more common primary spinal tumors that are malignant.
- Secondary spinal tumors, or metastatic spinal tumors, are tumors that have spread to the spine from a cancer that started elsewhere in the body. These malignant tumors are the most common type of spinal tumors, have the potential to spread further, and are typically fast-growing. Cancerous cells from the lung, breast, and prostate are most likely to spread and become lodged in the spine. According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that about 90% of diagnosed spinal tumors are metastatic.
Back pain, especially in the middle or lower back, is the most frequent symptom of both benign and malignant spinal tumors. Depending on the location and type of tumor, other signs and symptoms can develop, especially as a tumor grows and compresses on the spinal cord, nerve roots, blood vessels, or bones of the spine.
Additional symptoms can include the following:
- Loss of sensation or muscle weakness in the legs, arms, or chest
- Stiff neck or back
- Pain and/or neurologic symptoms (such as tingling)
- Difficulty walking, which may cause falls
- Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of the body, depending on which nerves are compressed
- Scoliosis or other spinal deformity resulting from a large and/or destructive tumor
A medical examination with emphasis on back pain and neurological deficits is the first step to diagnosing a spinal tumor. Radiological tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or bone scans, are usually required for a positive diagnosis.
At Austin CyberKnife, we treat spinal tumors with the CyberKnife Radiosurgery System®. With over two decades of clinical proof, the CyberKnife system has been trusted to treat thousands of patients with tumors within, near, and adjacent to the spine. Its advanced technology enables our physicians to painlessly deliver precise beams of radiation to destroy a patient’s spinal tumor without requiring incisions, hospitalization, or a long recovery time.
Spinal tumors can present a treatment challenge for conventional treatments because they move as the patient breathes and are often located near complex, delicate tissues, and structures of the spine. Unlike any other radiation therapy treatment, the CyberKnife System can achieve surgical accuracy due to its advanced technology that automatically synchronizes the radiation beam with tumor movement in real-time — enabling it to deliver beams of radiation with sub-millimeter precision without the use of body frames, breath-hold techniques, or implemented fiducials. Many patients find it preferable that with CyberKnife treatment they do not have to undergo additional outpatient procedures to implant fiducials and find it more comfortable to be able to breathe normally on the treatment table.
During treatment with CyberKnife, our physicians use the real-time motion synchronization technology to zero in on the moving tumor and focus hundreds of radiation beams from different angles, all of which intersect at the tumor to destroy it. Using this method, the CyberKnife System can deliver high doses of radiation to the spinal tumor, while avoiding damage to the surrounding sensitive spinal cord tissue and other critical structures. As a result, radiation is delivered more accurately and treatments can be completed in one to five sessions.
- Outpatient procedure, no anesthesia or hospitalization required
- Noninvasive, no incisions needed
- Typically pain-free treatment
- Reaches spinal tumors from virtually unlimited directions with robotic mobility
- Targets individual spinal tumors with pinpoint accuracy
- Enables clinicians to maximize and conform the dose to the spinal tumor
- Constantly corrects for patient/tumor movement throughout treatment, ensuring radiation beams are always locked on the tumor during treatment
- Minimal radiation exposure to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor
- Little to no recovery time and almost immediate return to your normal daily activities
- Minimal, if any, side effects due to pinpoint precision of high-dose radiation delivery