Vertebral tumor

A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth in your spinal canal or bones of the spine. A vertebral tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in the bones or vertebrae of the spine. This condition affects the nervous system and leads to impairment of neurological function. Cancerous tumors form mostly due to metastasis.

It is estimated that about 2.5 to 8.5 per 100,000 individuals are newly diagnosed with primary vertebral tumor every year. Vertebral tumors are also called as extradural tumors because they develop outside spinal cord. Types of spinal tumors are osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, chordoma, or Ewing’s sarcoma.


Symptoms of vertebral tumor depend on its location and type. Pain at the site of the tumor is the common manifestation. Other signs and symptoms are seen due to neurological compression by the tumor, and they include:

  • Weakness or numbness, especially in your legs and arms
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Rapid onset of paralysis
  • Back pain that radiates to other parts of your body


Your doctor begins the diagnosis by reviewing your medical history and performing a physical examination. Imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans helps to confirm the diagnosis.

Your doctor might recommend a biopsy, a diagnostic procedure that involves removing the affected tissue to examine under the microscope.


Vertebral tumors are caused by mutations in your DNA or defective genes. These defects may be inherited or occur spontaneously due to environmental factors or certain chemicals. Most of the vertebral tumors are secondary which means the cancers developed in the breast, lung, or prostate and metastasize to the spine.


Though the tumor is cancerous or noncancerous, there will be compression of nerves that result in permanent nerve damage. Because of this consequence, you may experience loss of sensation below the level of the tumor. The spine becomes unstable and increases the risk of the spine fracture.

Consult your doctor immediately if you have weakness in the upper or lower limbs, if there is a change in your bowel or bladder habits, or if you lose sensation in any part of the body.

You should also visit a doctor if:

  • you have chronic and severe back pain (that is not work related),
  • pain gets worse in the night
  • you had a history of cancer and developed back pain recently.

Back pain is a common symptom of many conditions; however, an early diagnosis would help to initiate the treatment immediately and reduce the risk of mortality

The treatment for vertebral tumors depends on your age, type of tumor, overall health, and whether the tumor is primary or secondary.

If there is spinal cord compression, your doctor prescribes steroids. However, these drugs don't affect tumor but can reduce the inflammation around the spinal cord.

Surgery is performed to remove the tumor. Your surgeon recommends surgery only if the benefits outweigh the risk of surgery. There are advanced techniques that make the tumor removal more secure and accessible. However, even with advanced technology, complete elimination of the tumor is not possible. Surgery is followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy helps to remove any remnant of tumors after surgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is an advanced radiation technique in which high-dose radiation can be given precisely to the targeted tissue.
Chemotherapy involves the use of anticancer medications to destroy cancer cells and prevent new cancer growth. Some side effects such as malaise, nausea, vomiting, and hair loss can be seen with the chemotherapy.
Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that can be used to relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting that occur due to vertebral tumors. It is important to seek medical advice before choosing any alternative or additional treatment.