What Is Spinal Cord Cancer?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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Spinal cord cancer constitutes any type of malignancy which develops on or inside the spinal cord. This type of cancer may develop from a tumors found in different regions of the spinal cord or it may result from the spread of malignant cells from other parts of the body. Common symptoms include numbness or pain in the back, legs, or buttocks. Surgery and steroids offer some treatment options.

The spinal cord is an important component of the central nervous system that controls sensations and movement in the body. This long nerve runs from the brain to the small of the back, and it sends messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Together with bones called vertebrae, it comprises the spinal column. Both fluids and tissue membranes surround and protect the spinal cord. These membranes are composed of an inner layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer: the dura mater.

Three primary locations may give rise to spinal cord cancer. If the malignancy is found inside the spinal cord, it is known as an intramedullary tumor. The remaining two types consider the tumor’s location in proximity to the dura mater. A tumor discovered outside of the dura mater in the bones is extradural, whereas one on the structure is intradural.


A spinal cord tumor can press down on the spinal nerve and deteriorate bones in the spinal column. The most common consequential symptoms of spinal cord diseases are inability to urinate or produce bowel movements properly and numbness in the lower back and buttocks area. Many individuals may also experience back pain and weakness in the legs. Eventual partial paralysis may result if spinal cord cancer is left untreated. Any recurring symptoms should be referred to a physician.

Like other cancer types, spinal cord cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth. This process is fairly infrequent in the central nervous system, however, so most cases of spinal cancer result from metastasis, or spread of cancers from another area. Breast, lung, and prostate malignancies are some common types that may invade the spinal cord.

Treatments for spinal cord cancer may be aimed at diminishing symptoms or at tackling the tumor itself. If the tumor is in a safe location where the spinal cord will not be further damaged, surgical removal may be an option. Otherwise, radiological therapy is the main course of treatment. Steroids may prove useful in reducing inflammation around the spinal nerve, but will not ultimately impact the tumor itself.



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