Spinal Cord Tumors: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The spinal cord, a complex and delicate structure, is susceptible to various disorders, including tumors that can impact its function. Spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths that can originate within the spinal cord itself or spread from other parts of the body. In this article, we will explore the different types of spinal cord tumors, their symptoms, methods of diagnosis, and available treatment options.

Spinal cord tumors

Spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths that develop within the spinal cord or the surrounding membranes, which can be benign or malignant. These tumors can arise from the cells of the spinal cord itself, or from nearby tissues, such as the membranes covering the spinal cord or the nerve roots. Spinal cord tumors can be categorized into two main types: intramedullary tumors, which arise from the cells within the spinal cord, and extramedullary tumors, which develop outside the spinal cord but within the spinal canal. Symptoms of spinal cord tumors may include pain or numbness in the back or limbs, muscle weakness, difficulty walking, loss of bowel or bladder control, and changes in sensation or reflexes. 

Types of Spinal Cord Tumors

Spinal cord tumors can be classified into two main categories based on their location and origin.

Intramedullary Tumors 

Intramedullary tumors originate within the spinal cord tissue itself. These tumors are relatively rare and can include:

  • Ependymomas: These tumors arise from the ependymal cells lining the spinal cord’s central canal. They often occur in the lower spinal cord.
  • Astrocytomas: Astrocytomas develop from astrocytes, which are support cells in the nervous system. They can vary in aggressiveness and location.

Extramedullary Tumors 

Extramedullary tumors develop outside the spinal cord tissue but within the spinal column. They can be further classified into:

  • Meningiomas: These tumors originate from the meninges, the protective layers covering the spinal cord and brain.
  • Schwannomas: Schwannomas arise from Schwann cells, which form the myelin sheath around nerve fibers. They often occur on the nerve roots.
  • Neurofibromas: Neurofibromas develop from nerve tissue and can affect nerve roots or other spinal structures.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumors

The symptoms of spinal cord tumors can vary based on the tumor’s location, size, and effects on surrounding tissues.

Neurological Symptoms 

  • Pain: Persistent back pain, often radiating to the arms, legs, or chest.
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness or difficulty with coordination.
  • Sensory Changes: Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the affected areas.
  • Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control: Incontinence or difficulty with urination and bowel movements.
  • Difficulty Walking: Problems with balance and mobility.

Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Tumors

Early diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment of spinal cord tumors.

Imaging Tests 

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This imaging technique provides detailed images of the spinal cord and surrounding structures, allowing for the visualization of tumors.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: CT scans can help identify the location and extent of tumors, especially those affecting bone structures.


A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample from the tumor for examination under a microscope. It helps determine whether the tumor is benign or malignant.

Spinal cord tumors Treatment

The treatment options for spinal cord tumors include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and supportive care. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the tumor, the size of the tumor, the patient’s overall health, and the potential risks and benefits of each treatment option. 

Treatment Options

Treatment for spinal cord tumors depends on factors such as tumor type, size, location, and the individual’s overall health.


Surgical removal of the tumor is often the primary treatment. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues.

Radiation Therapy 

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to target and destroy tumor cells. It can be employed after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.


Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It is less commonly used for spinal cord tumors but may be considered in certain cases.

Living with a Spinal Cord Tumor

Living with a spinal cord tumor can be challenging, but support and resources are available.


Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs can help individuals regain strength, mobility, and function after treatment.

Emotional Support

Coping with a spinal cord tumor diagnosis can be emotionally taxing. Seeking support from loved ones, support groups, or mental health professionals can be beneficial.


Spinal cord tumors are complex conditions that require careful diagnosis and personalized treatment plans. With advancements in medical technology and a comprehensive approach to care, individuals diagnosed with spinal cord tumors have access to a range of treatment options that can improve their quality of life.

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