Vertebral column tumor

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 1, 2016
StartDiseasesVertebral column tumor

A vertebral column tumor is also known as a spinal tumor or just vertebral tumor. It is a growth that can develop within a person's spinal canal. It can also occur within the bones of a person's spine. These types of tumors can be noncancerous as well as cancerous.


Definition & Facts

A vertebral tumor can be spread from other cancers located in different parts of a person's body. There are certain tumors that begin inside the bone of a spine. They can be known as Ewing's sarcoma or chordoma, osteosarcoma, and chondrosarcoma. It is an abnormal growth of tissue.

Vertebral tumors can cause back pain as a result of bone expanding or weakening. When a patient has cancer and starts to complain of back pain or some other neurological issue, this may indicate cancer has moved into their spine. If a tumor is or is not cancerous, it is still a life-threatening situation that can result in the patient having a permanent disability.

Symptoms & Complaints

There are a number of different symptoms a person may experience when they have a vertebral column tumor. They include intense pain in the neck or back. Once this happens, a neurological problem can occur such as numbness or weakness in a person's legs or arms. Some common symptoms are changes in a person's usual bladder or bowel habits.

The pain most people experience is most severe in the morning. Pain can also be severe when the area where a tumor is located is directly compressed or manipulated. This type of pain does not decrease or go away with rest. It may increase during the day.

A person may also experience a loss of appetite. They may have unexplained weight loss. They could experience regular fever, chills, shakes as well as vomiting. Many people with a vertebral column tumor have difficulty walking.

Some have pain or struggle to stand. They could also have a general loss of sensation in certain parts of their body. Some individuals experience a certain degree of paralysis. It's also possible for spinal deformities to be the result of a vertebral tumor. In the early stages, people may not know where their feet are and struggle to use keys or buttons.


Research has not yet been able to determine why most vertebral tumors occur. Many research scientists believe defective genes could be a major factor. It has yet to be understood if this is a type of genetic defect that is caused by something in the environment, inherited or results from exposure to a specific type of chemicals or other substance. It has been shown in some situations that vertebral tumors can be associated with inherited syndromes such as von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL) as well as neurofibromatosis Type 2.

When a person has a history of cancer, these types of tumors have a greater chance of developing. They can travel or metastasize from other cancers such as those located in the prostate, lung, and breast. Individuals with a weakened immune system caused by disease or medication have been known to develop vertebral tumors. These tumors are similar to other tumors. They result from changes that occur in the DNA of a person's cells. Certain changes within a person's genetic code must occur for a vertebral tumor to result.

Diagnosis & Tests

When an individual shows signs of having a vertebral tumor, a physician will want to obtain a complete medical history on the patient. They will then focus on the location and severity of the symptoms as well as when they started to appear. The next step is a physical examination. A physician will conduct a neurological exam. They will test a patient's muscle strength, eye movement, balance, alertness and other neurological functions. Depending on the results, a physician my recommend their patient visit a specialist.

There are a number of imaging tests that could be ordered. A computed tomography (CT) scan could be performed. It is designed to take a number of pictures as it rotates around a person. It can then produce a very detailed image of a body's soft tissue. A magnetic resonance perfusion (MRP) could be ordered. This provides an image of blood levels in different parts of a tumor. Their blood supply is more than normal, and it can show the rate of a tumor's growth. A piece of the tumor tissue could be removed during a procedure known as a biopsy. The tissue will be examined to determine if the tumor is or is not cancerous and to identify the type of tumor.

Treatment & Therapy

The goal for treatment of a vertebral column tumor will be customized to address individual situations. Treatment could involve surgery that is complex and delicate. A surgeon will try to eliminate a tumor without causing any disturbance to other parts of a person's spine and surrounding physical structures. Should surgery not be able to eliminate the complete tumor, the amount left will be treated using other methods.

Radiation therapy could be utilized to eliminate a tumor alone or in conjunction with surgery. Chemotherapy is also a treatment option. It can be taken orally or given by injection. A patient may be given a corticosteroid. This drug is designed to decrease the swelling of a vertebral tumor that is causing pain by pressing against the spinal cord.

Proton Therapy is becoming a popular treatment option. It is able to provide high doses of radiation directly into the site of a tumor. This is able to be accomplished without any damage to tissue that is nearby. It provides better results with little or no impact to a person's body. Physicians are also able to utilize computers to focus radiation beams on tumors from multiple angles with a procedure known as Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS).

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are a number of lifestyle changes people can make to decrease their chances of developing a vertebral tumor. Not using tobacco in any form is important. Experts believe tobacco use is a path toward cancer development.

Having a healthy diet is also essential. It may not prevent cancer but may reduce the risk of developing it. When people maintain a healthy weight and are physically active, their chances for developing cancer also decrease.