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Spinal Tumors

Our Approach

Neuro-oncologist Mark Gilbert, M.D., is studying the use of personalized chemotherapies to treat spinal tumors at the
molecular level. 

MD Anderson's Brain and Spine Center offers one of the most comprehensive specialized programs in the United States for the treatment of benign (not cancer) and malignant (cancer) spinal tumors. When you are treated here, you benefit from the knowledge and experience of some of the nation's most renowned experts.

Our physicians approach spinal tumor care in specialized teams, bringing together incredible skill to give you the highest level of customized care. This personalized care and our partnership with you focus on the most-advanced treatments with the least impact on your body.

Your spinal tumor treatment team may include neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, neuropathologists and nurse practitioners. They collaborate and communicate every step of the way. They are joined by a support staff trained in helping patients with spinal tumors.

Surgical Skill

Treatment for spinal tumors often includes surgery, and surgical skill is key to successful outcomes. Our surgeons complete more spinal tumor surgeries each year than many surgeons do in a lifetime. This gives them a high level of experience and expertise that can make a real difference in your treatment and recovery.

And our physicians have at their fingertips the latest technology and techniques to treat spinal tumors, including:

We are constantly researching newer, more effective and safer surgical and medical approaches for spinal tumors. Numerous clinical trials of new treatments are available for spinal tumors.

If you have been diagnosed with a spinal tumor, we're here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • One of few centers in nation focused on malignant and benign spinal tumors
  • Innovative spinal tumor treatments including proton therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery (GammaKnife®), targeted therapies
  • Specialized neuropathologists and neuroradiologists
  • Highly skilled surgeons perform most-advanced spinal tumor procedures
  • Range of clinical trials of new treatments for spinal tumors

Spinal Tumor Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

Spinal tumors are treated in our:

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Chris Collier

"To say my primary treatment team at MD Anderson is extraordinary is an understatement. Dr. Laurence Rhines is a dedicated, preeminent spine surgeon with a wonderful demeanor and sense of humor."

Spinal Tumor Survivor Chris Collier

Spinal Tumor Facts

One person in 100,000, or about 10,000 people a year, in the United States develop spinal tumors. Between 15% and 20% of central nervous system (brain and spine) tumors occur in the spine.

Spinal tumors can involve any part of the spine. They can begin in the:

  • Neck (cervical)
  • Back (thoracic)
  • Low back (lumbar or sacral spine)

Spinal tumors can begin in:

  • Nerve cells that make up the spinal cord
  • Soft tissues or muscles that support the spine
  • Bones that make up the spinal column

Tumors that begin in the spine are known as primary spinal tumors. A tumor that has spread from another part of the body to the spine is known as a metastatic tumor.

Spinal tumors can be dangerous even if they are not cancer. As they develop and grow they can cause serious problems by pressing against crucial parts of the spine.

Spinal Anatomy

The spine is made up of bones, muscles and ligaments. They work together to provide structural support to the body and protect nerves that control important body functions, as well as sensation and movement.

Vertebrae are the bones of the spine that are stacked one on top of another beginning at the base of the brain. Around and between the vertebrae are nerves, joints, muscles and cartilage. Five vertebrae joined together in the lower back are called the sacrum. The tailbone (coccyx) includes the bottom three vertebrae.

The inner part of the spine is called the spinal cord. It has:

  • Blood vessels
  • Nerve cells
  • Glial cells that help the brain function

Three layers of tissue (meninges) protect the outside of the spinal cord. They are called the:

  • Pia mater, the inner layer
  • Arachnoid, the middle layer
  • Dura mater, the outer layer

Spinal Tumor Types

Spinal tumors are classified by the types of cells within the tumor. Each type of spinal tumor grows and is treated in a different way.

Intramedullary spinal tumors are within the spinal cord. These include:

  • Astrocytomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Hemangioblastomas

Intradural extramedullary spinal tumors are within the spinal cord covering (dura) but outside the spinal cord. These include: 

  • Meningiomas 
  • Neurofibromas
  • Schwannomas

Extradural spinal tumors (vertebral column tumors) usually involve cartilage and bone. They may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).


  • Osteoblastoma
  • Enchondromas
  • Aneurysmal bone cysts
  • Giant cell tumors
  • Hangiomas
  • Eosinophilic granulomas


  • Osteosarcoma
  • Chordoma
  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Plasmacytoma

The most common places of origin for cancers that spread to the spine are:

  • Lungs
  • Breasts
  • Prostate
  • Kidneys
  • Thyroid

Lymphomas (a tumor of the blood system) also may spread to the spine and compress the spinal cord.

If you have been diagnosed with a spinal tumor, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center