Spinal Meningioma

Overview

A meningioma is a tumor that arises in the meninges – the thin membranes that cover and provide a protective wrapping for your brain and spinal cord. Meningioma tumors are usually found in the brain – only about 12% are located in the spine. Most spinal meningiomas develop in the middle spine (thoracic area) and occasionally in the upper spine (cervical area). They almost never grow in the lower back (lumbar area).

Symptoms

Approximately 95% of spinal meningiomas are noncancerous (benign), and they generally grow very slowly. Cancerous (malignant) spinal tumors usually arise from another cancer – like lung or breast cancer – that has spread from other locations in the body.

Spinal meningiomas are most common between the ages of 50 and 70. (They’re rarely found in children and are most always associated with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2.) Women are at higher risk than men for developing spinal meningiomas, as are people who’ve been exposed to ionizing radiation. Researchers are also investigating whether there may be hormonal risk factors as well. 

Symptoms generally don’t occur unless your tumor has begun to press on your spinal cord. Spinal meningioma symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance 
  • Weakness
  • Pain at the tumor site
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 
  • Loss of sensation, vision, hearing, smell and taste
  • Neurological problems, including changes in personality

Diagnosis

To diagnose a spinal meningioma, your doctor will examine you and may order a CT, MRI or X-ray scan to identify the tumor’s location. He or she may also take a sample (biopsy) of the tumor to determine whether it’s cancerous.

Treatment Options

Surgery is the most common treatment for spinal meningiomas. Before the procedure, your surgeon will use an ultrasound to create a map of the tumor to figure out the best way to approach it. Then you’ll receive a laminectomy, in which part of your vertebrae is removed to access the tumor. This may be followed by spinal fusion surgery to help stabilize your spine.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend taking corticosteroids to shrink your tumor before surgery. After surgery, you’ll also need radiation if the tumor is cancerous.

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