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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.
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.
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:
Intradural extramedullary spinal tumors are within the spinal cord covering (dura) but outside the spinal cord. These include:
Extradural spinal tumors (vertebral column tumors) usually involve cartilage and bone. They may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
- Aneurysmal bone cysts
- Giant cell tumors
- Eosinophilic granulomas
- Ewing’s sarcoma
The most common places of origin for cancers that spread to the spine are:
Lymphomas (a tumor of the blood system) also may spread to the spine and compress the spinal cord.
Spinal Tumor Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting a spinal tumor is a risk factor. Little is known about what causes spinal tumors. It is known that certain disorders that run in families may increase your risk of brain tumors or spinal tumors. These include:
- Neurofibromatosis type 2
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease
- Immune system disorders may play a part in spinal cord lymphomas
Not everyone with risk factors gets spinal tumors. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Research shows that many cancers can be prevented.
Learn more about spinal tumors:
In rare cases, spinal tumors can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.
Why choose MD Anderson for spinal tumor treatment?
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 spinal cancer experts.Our Spinal Tumor Treatment Approach
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.
Treatment for spinal cancer often includes surgery, and surgical skill is key to successful outcomes. Our surgeons complete more spine 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.
Be honest with others around you, and let them in. It will be hard, but cancer will not define us.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.
Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.