Spinal tumors are growths which develop within the spinal canal or within bones of the spine. These may either be cancerous or noncancerous. Tumors which affect the bones of spinal vertebrae are specifically known as vertebral tumors. Tumors which are found to begin within the spinal cord itself are known as spinal cord tumors. Two main types of tumors which affect the spinal cord include the following: Intramedullary tumor growths begin within the spinal cord & cause tumors like ependymomas or astrocytomas. Extramedullary tumors are found to develop within the supporting network of cells located around the spinal cord. Although these do not begin within the spinal cord in strict sense, these tumors may affect function of the spinal cord by causing compression & other associated problems. Good examples of extramedullary tumors which are found to affect the functioning of spinal cord include neurofibromas, meningiomas & schwannomas.
Tumors from other parts of the body are also found to metastasize or spread to the vertebrae, to supporting network around spinal cord, or in some rare cases to the spinal cord itself. Growths or spinal tumors of any type can cause various neurological problems including pain & paralysis sometimes. These spinal tumors, whether they are cancerous or noncancerous can be life-threatening & cause permanent disability in patients at times. Treatment of spinal tumors may often include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other types of medications.
Different kinds of signs & symptoms can develop depending upon the type & location of spinal tumors, especially when tumors grow & affect the spinal cord by surrounding blood vessels or nerves. Signs & symptoms of tumors affecting the spinal cord generally include the following.
Back pain is one of the most common early symptoms of both cancerous & noncancerous spinal tumors. Pain may however also spread to other areas beyond the back to areas like arms, feet, legs & hips & may later become more sever in spite of treatments. Different spinal tumors progress at a different pace. Generally, cancerous spinal tumors are found to grow more quickly, while noncancerous spinal tumors tend to develop at a slower pace.
There are so many causes of back pain & moreover most back pains are also not caused by spinal tumors. Nevertheless, early diagnosis & treatment are very important in case of spinal tumors & therefore patients must seek immediate medical help in case their back pain resembles the following.
Patients must seek immediate medical attention in case they experience the following.
Causes of most primary spinal tumors is however unknown. Nevertheless, some of these may be contributed to exposure to a variety of cancer-causing agents. Spinal cord lymphomas are cancers which affect a type of immune cell called lymphocytes & are more common among people with compromised immune systems. Moreover, there also appears to be high incidence of spinal tumors in particular families & which suggests likelihood of a genetic component involved in the making of spinal tumors.
In a small number of cases it is also found that primary spinal tumors may result from presence of the following two genetic diseases.
Tumors of the spinal cord are generally classified according to their location within the spine. Spinal cord basically is a long column of nerve fibers which carry messages to & from the brain. There are three protective membranes called meninges which are wrapped around the entire spinal cord. The tougher outer layer of spinal cord is called dura mater, the middle layer is known as arachnoid membrane & the innermost layer is known as the pia mater. Spinal cord tumors are normally classified as intradural or extradural depending upon the location where they occur in relation to these protective layer membranes of the spinal cord. Intradural spinal tumors are found to occur within the dura matter & these are further divided into the following two subcategories.
Spinal cord tumors are more commonly associated with people in the following categories.
Both cancerous & noncancerous spinal tumors can compress nerves & the spinal cord & thereby lead to a loss of sensation or movement at & below the level of tumor & at times make changes in bladder & bowel function. Moreover, in some cases this nerve damage may also be permanent. However, in case spinal tumor is detected early & aggressively treated, it may effectively be possible to prevent further loss of function. Coupled with aggressive rehabilitation the patient may also be able to regain nerve function. Tumors, which compress the spinal cord, may at times be life-threatening depending upon the location & compression.
Spinal cord tumors may sometimes be overlooked simply because they are no common & most often their symptoms resemble that those of many other more common conditions. This is exactly the reason as to why it is especially important for doctors to know complete medical history of patients alongside performing both neurological & general physical examinations. In case doctors suspect spinal tumors, one or more of the following tests can help them confirm diagnosis & pinpoint the exact location of the spinal tumor.
After the spinal tumor has been confirmed through radiology, the only way left to determine whether this tumor is malignant or benign is to conduct a biopsy which involves examining a small tissue sample under a microscope & which has been extracted using a biopsy procedure. Biopsy will help determine the type of cancer in case the spinal tumor is malignant & which will also confirm as to which treatment option would be most suitable. The staging process classifies the abnormal tissue (neoplasms) according to the extent of tumor by assessing involvement of soft tissue, bone & spinal canal. Doctors for this purpose may order a whole body scan with help of nuclear technology as well as a CT scan of lungs & abdomen for determining the staging of cancer. Doctors will then compare laboratory test findings & results from aforementioned scans to patient’s symptoms so as to confirm diagnosis.
Goal of treatments for spinal tumors is to completely eliminate the tumor. This goal may however be complicated by risk of permanent damage to the spinal cord & nerves surrounding the tumor. Moreover, doctors must also take into account the age & overall health of the patient while choosing the option for treatment. Type of tumor & whether it is arising from structures of the spine or spinal canal or if it has spread to the spine from some other part of the body must also be considered while determining a plan for treatment.
Treatment options for most spinal tumors include the following.
Typical hospital stays following surgery for removal of spinal tumors range between 2 – 14 days depending upon individual cases. Requirement of post-surgical physical rehabilitation in some cases may involve staying within a rehabilitation center for a period of time. In many other cases, patients may undergo physical therapy at an outpatient facility or even at home. However, total time for recovery post surgery may be as short as 3 months or as long as 12 months depending upon the complexity of spinal tumor surgery & overall health of the patient.
Outcome of spinal tumor surgery greatly depends upon overall health & age of the patient & whether the spinal tumor is malignant or benign & primary or metastatic. However, in case of primary tumors, goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor & optimally leading to potential cure of malignancy. In case of metastatic tumors, goal is invariably palliative with treatment aiming to provide improved quality of life along with a possible prolonged life expectancy to spinal tumor surgery patients.
Although there are no alternative medicines which have proven to cure cancer, there however are some complementary or alternative treatments that can help relieve some symptoms. One such alternative treatment is acupuncture where a practitioner inserts tiny needles into the skin at precise points as part of the procedure. Research also shows that acupuncture may be helpful in relieving vomiting & nausea in cancer patients. Acupuncture is also found to relieve certain types of pain in people suffering with cancer. However, patients with spinal tumors must make sure to discuss risks & benefits of alternative or complimentary treatments they intend to try with their doctors. Some other alternative treatments like herbal remedies can also interfere with medications that patients with spinal tumors are taking.
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