Spine Tumor Treatments
Treatment options for spinal tumors depend on the type of tumor and the extent of the disease. Benign tumors that cause no symptoms may need nothing more than close observation.
Tumors that arise from other sites (metastatic) may be treated with chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Most tumors that are causing severe pain, spinal curvatures or compression of nerves or spinal cord are treated with surgery
The first step in the evaluation of a spinal tumor is to get a detailed history. The doctor will perform a physical examination. This may include checking for swelling, tenderness, and other possible sites of involvement as well as evaluating motion, alignment, and strength of arms and legs.
A neurologic examination may also be done. This may include tests of sensory (temperature, pain, and pressure sensitivity), motor (muscle strength), and reflex functions of the nervous system. In addition, X-rays may be necessary to look for tumors or dislocations.
Other tests such as Bone Scans can identify tumors months before X-rays. Often computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be ordered to determine the extent of the disease. In an effort to determine the origin of the tumor and whether it is benign or malignant, you will need a biopsy. The biopsy can be done in the x-ray department by a radiologist or in the operating room by the surgeon. Sometimes the biopsy is done at the same time as the treatment.
Symptoms of spine tumors typically include pain or weakness. The vast majority of patients complain of constant “aching” or “gnawing” pain localized to the location of the tumor mechanical pain around the tumor aggravated by movement, or radiating “shooting” nerve pain (down the arms, legs or around the chest and belly) related to nerves that are irritated or compressed by the tumor.
Patients may also feel nighttime pain preventing them from sleeping and or experiencing night sweats and chills. Some patients may experience weakness in the arms or legs due to compression of nerves or spinal cord. In some cases, the compression may lead to problems with urine function, sexual function, or bowel function. Some patients may have a tumor diagnosed by a test and could experience no symptoms at all.
A number of surgical techniques are employed to reduce tumor size, decompress the spinal cord and nerves of the spine, and stabilize the bony elements of the spine in a more normal position. Many times minimally invasive techniques can be employed to minimize blood loss, infection, and recovery time.
Modern techniques even allow for outpatient delivery of computer-guided thermal energy to a spinal tumor to destroy it, performed through a large needle. This can be done in conjunction with a vertebral augmentation procedure, where bone cement is injected into the affected spinal bone to stabilize it and reduce or eliminate pain.
The use of robotics in surgery can improve the accuracy and efficacy of surgery for spinal tumors. Seeking care from a physician with experience providing all types of surgical care for tumors of the spine is very important to experience the best result with the lowest risk of a complication.
Frequently Asked Questions
The goal of surgery is to improve life expectancy and/or quality of life when treating spinal tumors. We wish to reduce pain, as well as preserve use of the arms, legs, bowels, and bladder. Sometimes, this can be accomplished with a minimally invasive outpatient procedure. Other times, an extensive spinal decompression and reconstruction is necessary to accomplish this goal. Regardless of the type of surgery you have, the surgical team at Texas Back Institute will work to ensure a seamless relationship with your cancer specialist and radiation oncologist to provide the best care possible for you or your loved one.
Our goal is to provide the most appropriate and least invasive care to improve the patient’s condition and quality of life. It is a goal that requires specialized expertise and a full range of support services.