Spinal Tumor

What is a spinal tumor?

A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth within the spine. These growths may be cancerous or noncancerous, but either way, spinal tumors pose serious health risks because their growth puts pressure on sensitive tissues.

What causes spinal tumors?

The exact cause of spinal tumors is unknown, but most spinal tumors have spread from a different location in the body (metastatic). Possible causes include:

  • Genetic changes (mutations)
  • Environmental factors
  • Inherited diseases

What are the symptoms of a spinal tumor?

Common symptoms of a spinal tumor include:

  • Back pain
  • Loss of feeling or sensitivity
  • Bowel or bladder problems
  • Weakness

How are spinal tumors diagnosed?

Diagnosing spinal tumors can be difficult because the symptoms can be similar to other, more common conditions. Your doctor will take a complete medical history in addition to performing physical and neurological exams.

Imaging is helpful in diagnosing spinal tumors. Your doctor may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans. Your physician may also need to perform a biopsy to collect a tissue sample for testing.

How are spinal tumors treated nonsurgically?

The primary goal of treatment is to completely eliminate the tumor. This can often be difficult depending on the location, size, and type of tumor. Treatments can sometimes pose risks of permanent damage to the spinal cord and other tissue. Your physician will discuss the benefits and risks of different treatment options.

Monitoring – If the tumor is detected before the appearance of symptoms and is thought to be benign (noncancerous), your physician may recommend monitoring the tumor for changes rather than pursuing more aggressive, riskier options.

Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy may be used to eliminate tumors that can’t be removed by surgery, or it can be used on its own to treat cancerous tumors.

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for cancer and may be used in the treatment of spinal tumors as well.

Other medications – Your physician may also prescribe other medication, such as steroids, to help manage the symptoms associated with the tumor or the treatments.

What are the surgical treatment options for spinal tumors?

Tumor removal

One surgical treatment option may be tumor excision, which is surgery to remove the tumor. Advanced techniques allow your physician to effectively remove the tumor while minimizing risks for complications. Unfortunately, surgery cannot completely remove all spinal tumors. Talk with your doctor to find out whether you are a candidate for surgical removal of your spinal tumor.

Spinal fusion surgery

Depending on the tumor’s location, your doctor may also recommend spinal fusion surgery to stabilize the spine. Fusion surgery attaches the damaged vertebral bone to an adjacent vertebral bone so that they grow together into one long bone. A fusion will reduce freedom of movement in the spine by making the fused vertebral bones immobile, but that immobility serves the purpose of stabilizing the spine.

Steps in a fusion surgery:

  • A bone graft is added to the spine segment being fused.
  • The surgical site is treated to set up a biological response that causes the bone graft to grow between the two vertebral segments, fusing them together.
  • When the fused bones heal, the fusion prevents movement at the joint.


More resources on fusion surgery:

 Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Summit’s spine care team is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNVadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

More resources for you


Also see...

  • exercise

    A Healthier Spine Through Exercise

    Exercise is one of the best preventative measures we can take to maintain good health. Generally, exercise increases physical strength and improves longevity. Specific exercises can also address and improve many types of spine pain.

  • Spine Anatomy

    Basic Anatomy Of The Spine

    Our overview of the components of the spine can help you understand some of the spine problems resulting from injury or aging.