Spinal Tumors

A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) that develops either within the spinal cord itself or in the area surrounding the spinal cord.  These tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign), and may originate in the spinal tissue (primary) or spread into the spine from other areas of the body (secondary, or metastatic).

Spinal tumors are typically classified based on their location in the spine:

Extradural: these tumors are located between the dura mater (a thick membrane that surrounds the spinal cord) and the bones of the spine

  • Most common type, accounting for about 60% of all spinal tumors
  • Majority are metastatic, spreading from other primary tumor sites (e.g. lungs, breast, prostate) through bloodstream to bones of spinal cord
  • Usually invade and destroy bone before compressing the spinal cord

 Intradural-extramedullary: located outside of the actual spinal cord but within the dura mater

  • Account for about 30% of all spinal tumors
  • Most common types are meningiomas and nerve sheath tumors
  • Usually benign and slow growing
  • Although they don’t begin in spinal cord, they may eventually lead to compression and cause pain and weakness to it

Intramedullary: arise from supporting cells (glia) within the substance of the spinal cord

  • Account for about 10% of all spinal tumors
  • Astrocytomas and ependymomas are most common, and occur at about equal frequency
  • Hemangioblastomas are less common and sometimes occur along with Von Hippel-Lindau disease (condition in which patients are prone to developing cysts in kidneys and other organs)
  • Typically occur in cervical (upper) spine and are usually benign


The symptoms of a spinal tumor depend on the location, type and size of the tumor, as well as the health of the patient.  Metastatic tumors generally progress more quickly, while primary tumors tend to grow slowly, over weeks or even years.  Tumors in the spinal cord itself often cause noticeable symptoms, which may extend out to other parts of the body, while those outside of the spinal cord may grow for a long time before causing any nerve damage that may be detected.  Symptoms of spinal tumors may include:

  • —  Pain, which may spread (radiate) to other areas of the body (especially in extradural tumors)
  • —  Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • —  Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • —  Muscle weakness or loss of function
  • —  Muscle contractions
  • —  Abnormal sensations (or loss of sensation), especially in the legs
  • —  Paralysis


If you’ve regularly been experiencing any of the above symptoms and are concerned that a spinal tumor may be a possibility, visit us at Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic Inc for a thorough evaluation.  Your evaluation will include a full medical history, physical and neurological exam, and some type of radiographic study of the spine.  We may use a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, or some other type of study, depending on the symptoms.

Surgical treatment offered by Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic Inc

If the presence of a spinal tumor is in fact confirmed, treatment should be given quickly to increase the chances of success.  The overall goal of any treatment for spinal tumors is to reduce and prevent nerve damage from pressure on the spinal cord.  Surgery may be used for many types of spinal tumors and is useful for obtaining tissue for diagnosis, as well as to relieve pressure of the spinal cord and stabilize the spine if necessary.

At Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic Inc, we offer the following surgical procedures for spinal tumors:

  • —  Preoperative embolization
  • —  Posterior resection of tumor
  • —  Anterior resection of tumor