Did you know that the symptoms of spinal tumors can resemble other common, less serious spinal conditions? While spinal tumors are relatively rare, it is important to stay mindful of this condition so you can seek treatment. Let’s explore how spinal tumors are diagnosed and treated, as well as what the recovery process looks like.
Spinal tumors are typically associated with pain at the site of the tumor, loss of sensitivity, difficulty walking, issues with bowel or bladder functioning, and muscle weakness. If your physician suspects a spinal tumor, there are a few tests they can conduct to confirm this. Most commonly, a spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be administered. A spinal MRI utilizes a magnetic field and radio waves to generate a detailed image of the spine, spinal cord, and spinal nerves. This image would be able to pinpoint any tumor growth. The next step in the diagnosis would be to take a biopsy of the tumor, examining a sample of the tumor under a microscope. This would help to determine the type of tumor and course of treatment.
The goal of treating a spinal tumor would be to eliminate it completely and avoid further growth. When considering treatment, your age, medical history, overall health, and location of the tumor play a factor in determining the type of treatment. Here are some of the most common treatment options for spinal tumors:
- Monitoring:When spinal tumors are identified before causing negative symptoms or if the tumor is small and shows no signs of growth, removal might not be needed at that time. In this case, monitoring the tumor with regular MRI scans is usually all that is required.
- Surgery:If the tumor is in an area that is accessible without posing a threat to spine, spinal cord, or nerves, surgery is recommended. With minimally invasive techniques and miraculous surgical equipment, surgeons are able to distinguish the tumor from healthy tissue and remove it.
- Radiation Therapy: While surgery can be effective at removing the bulk of the tumor, it can be difficult to completely rid the spine of this cancerous tissue. In this case or when tumors are too risky to surgically remove, radiation therapy may be recommended. This treatment utilizes beams of radiation energy targeted at the tumor to kill those cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy:Another nonsurgical treatment option for spinal tumors is chemotherapy. This treatment utilizes drugs that target cancerous cells to destroy them and stop further tumor growth.
Depending on the treatment you receive, recovery will vary. When you have undergone surgery to remove the tumor, your body will need time to recover. The recovery process can take weeks or longer, depending on the type of surgery. Physical and occupational therapy will likely be recommended to help you regain strength, mobility, and independence. If you have undergone radiation therapy, there is typically no recovery period as you can return to normal activities immediately following treatment. You may experience some side effects such as fatigue, skin redness, and localized pain but these should subside with time. Finally, if your treatment was chemotherapy, you may experience nausea, fatigue, and blood cell count changes immediately following treatment. While these symptoms will subside within a few weeks, chemotherapy does have long-term side effects, affecting your overall health, that will prolong your recovery. During this time, try to prioritize self-care, nutrition, and exercise to regain any lost strength.
Spinal tumors can be scary upon the first diagnosis, but with the variety of treatments available, it doesn’t have to be. The Spine Clinic of Oklahoma City is happy to provide you with world-class spine care to bring you towards better spine health today!
AUTHOR: Dr. Brett Braly is a board-certified fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery. Dr. Braly is a leading advocate for minimally invasive techniques in spine surgery. Dr. Braly is named in the top “20 under 40” best spine surgeons by the North American Spine Society.