What is Cancer of the Spine?

Spine cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in or around the spinal cord resulting in a tumor. If the abnormal cells originated from cells in the tissues of the spine,  the resulting collection of cells is called a primary spine tumor. If the abnormal cells originated in another part of the body, such as the lung or breast, and were carried to the spine by the blood or other bodily fluid, then it is considered a metastatic spine tumor. More than 18,000 cases of primary spine tumors and more than 162,000 spine metastases are diagnosed in United States each year1.Spinal metastases can occur in up to 40 percent of cancer patients2.

 

Primary Spine Tumors
Primary spine tumors are relatively rare types of tumors that originate in or around the spine itself.  They can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).  Benign tumors include meningiomas, neurofibromas and  schwannoma, while malignant ones include astrocytomas and ependymomas1.

 

Metastatic spine tumors
Metastatic tumors can spread to the spine through the bloodstream, along nerves or within the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. These cells most commonly originate from tumors within the lung, breast, skin and colon, and are deposited in the spine, eventually growing into a tumor or tumors3.

 

Both primary and metastatic spine tumors are very dangerous because they can compress the spinal cord and/or destroy the bone and surrounding tissue in the spine. These tumors cause patients to experience pain, gait and posture problems, and other neurological issues. As these tumors grow larger, patients can become paralyzed if the tumor cuts the spinal cord completely1.