Spinal Tumours

Terms with the same meaning:

  • Spinal metastasis = secondary spinal cancer or tumour

The most common type of spinal tumour is due to spread of a cancer from another part of the body (metastatic disease). Tumours arising from the spine itself are rare. Both forms of tumour cause spinal pain and if advanced, can lead to instability of the spine and pressure on the nerves and/or spinal cord. First line treatment involves cancer specialists and chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Only if pain is unrelieved or the spinal cord is threatened is surgery considered. The role of surgery in metastatic disease is to control the spinal tumour and prevent paralysis, but surgery cannot improve the overall prognosis. The role of the surgeon is as part of a team that includes radiation and medical cancer specialists.

Medical terminology:

  • Primary spinal tumour = a rare tumour that grows from tissues in the spine, usually bone, and may be benign or malignant
  • Secondary spinal tumour = cancer that has spread from another organ and so is a metastasis. This is always malignant
  • Benign = slow growing tumour that does not spread to other parts of the body, but may cause local problems
  • Malignant = a cancerous tumour that grows and spreads to other parts of the body
  • Radiation oncologist = a medical specialist that treats tumours with radiation
  • Medical oncologist = a medical specialist that treats tumours with chemotherapy
  • FNA = ‘fine needle aspirate’, which is a method of obtaining a tissue biopsy under guidance of a CT scan