Spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the
bony spinal column, which is one of the primary components of the
central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are noncancerous, and
malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony
quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth,
whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues
and impair function. Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal
cord are called primary tumors.
Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells
that surround and support neurons. In a small number of individuals,
primary tumors may result from specific genetic disease (e.g., neurofibromatosis,
tuberous sclerosis) or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing
chemicals. The cause of most primary tumors remains a mystery. They
are not contagious and, at this time, not preventable.
Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain, sensory changes, and motor
problems. Symptoms generally develop slowly and worsen over time
unless they are treated. Tumors within the spinal cord usually cause
symptoms over large areas of the body, while tumors outside the spinal
cord may grow for some time before causing nerve damage. Other symptoms
include back pain, loss of sensation, muscle weakness, incontinence
and muscle spasms.
The first test to diagnose brain and spinal column tumors is a neurological examination. Special imaging techniques (computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography) are also employed. Laboratory tests include the EEG and the spinal tap. A biopsy, a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from a suspected tumor, helps doctors diagnose the type of tumor.
The tumor may be classified as benign or malignant and given a numbered score that reflects how malignant it is. This score can help doctors determine how to treat the tumor and predict the likely outcome, or prognosis, for the patient.
Outlined below are some of the diagnostic tools that your physician may use to gain insight into your condition and determine the best treatment plan for your condition.
The goal when treating spinal cord tumors is to minimize nerve damage
related to compression of the spinal cord. The main priority is to
administer treatment as quickly as possible to prevent progression.
The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation, and
chemotherapy. Doctors also may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling
inside the CNS.
The earlier the spinal cord tumor is detected, the better the outlook.
Without treatment, spinal tumors can lead to serious disability,
paralysis and death.
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