Spinal tumors rarely occur and are either benign or malignant. Some tumors are known to metastasize (spread) via arteries, veins, the lymphatic system, and directly. Malignant tumors of the breast, prostate, lung, and kidney can spread into the spine. Spinal tumors can be dangerous when they cause spinal canal compression, which may lead to neurologic dysfunction (e.g. paralysis).

Many patients will present with back pain as the primary symptom. The pain can occur at rest, be worse at night, and may or may not be related to activity. Other symptoms may include sciatica, numbness, paraparesis (slight paralysis), spinal deformity (e.g. scoliosis, kyphosis), and fever.

Benign Spinal Tumors

Osteochondroma is a slow growing tumor of the cartilage usually affecting adolescents. It is uncommon and is usually found in the posterior (rear) spine.

Osteoid Osteoma is a small bone tumor (less than 2 cm). It usually affects adolescents causing night pain and may result in spinal deformity.

Osteoblastoma affects children and adolescents. These tumors can be large, aggressive, and painful sometimes causing spinal deformity and paralysis.

Aneurysmal Bone Cysts (ABCs) typically cause pain and swelling usually affecting children and adolescents. These tumors can be large and quite vascular.

Giant Cell Tumor is known to affect children, adolescents and young adults. These tumors can be found at the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar segments of the spine, but are more common in the sacrum.

Hemangioma occurs most often in the thoracic spine. These tumors affect adults and are known to be progressive vascular masses that can cause vertebral collapse and paraparesis (slight paralysis).

Eosinophilic Granuloma is usually seen in the vertebral bodies of children and adolescents. When this tumor is systemic it is termed Histiocytosis X. Rarely do these tumors lead to vertebral collapse and paraparesis. On occasion, they may heal spontaneously.  

Malignant Spinal Tumors

Plasmacytoma presents in middle aged and older adults. These tumors are common in the pedicle and vertebral body and may cause paraparesis.

Ewing's Sarcoma is an aggressive tumor affecting adolescents and young adults. In some cases, it may metastasize.

Lymphoma may present in one or more vertebral bodies in middle aged or older adults. Sometimes the lymphatic system is involved.

Chondrosarcoma is a tumor affecting spinal cartilage in middle-aged adults. It grows slowly but can be dangerous. Usually aggressive medical intervention is required.

Osteosarcoma is bone cancer found in adolescents and middle-aged adults. These tumors may metastasize requiring aggressive medical therapy.

Chordoma is usually seen in adults frequently (50%) involving the sacrum, although it can affect other parts of the spine. These tumors often require aggressive medical therapy.

Spine pain does not always indicate tumor presence. However, early medical intervention is always warranted if spine pain does not resolve or if neurologic deficit is experienced.

Symptoms of Spinal Tumors

The primary symptom of a spinal tumor, and the one that brings most patients to seek medical advice, is non-mechanical back pain. Non-mechanical back pain is different from the more common mechanical back pain. Mechanical back pain due to muscle strains or disc injury usually worsens with activities such as sitting, bending, and walking and gets better with rest or lying down, whereas non-mechanical back pain is constant and is not improved by rest or lying down. Other symptoms include

  1. Sciatica

  2. Numbness

  3. Partial paralysis

  4. Spinal deformity

  5. Difficulty with bladder control

  6. Fever

Symptoms of spinal tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time unless they are treated. 


Spinal tumors—whether they're primary or secondary tumors—are caused by abnormal cell growth.

In primary spinal tumors (tumors that originate in the spine), researchers aren't sure what causes the cells to grow abnormally. For some cases, it may be related to radiation exposure or chemicals that cause cancer; it's possible that environment plays a role. Genetics may also play a role: for example, neurofibromatosis is a hereditary disorder that involves tumors on or near the spinal nerves.

For the majority of cases of primary spinal tumors, though, the medical community isn't sure what causes primary tumors.

Secondary spinal tumors are caused by cancer that has spread from another part of the body. This spreading is called metastasis.  





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