Spinal Tumor


Spinal tumors are growths inside or near your spinal cord or the bones of your spine. They can be cancerous or noncancerous. There are three types of spinal tumors, based on where they grow:

  • Intramedullary tumors grow inside your spinal cord.
  • Extramedullary (or intradural) tumors grow in the membranes covering your spinal cord.
  • Extradural tumors grow inside your vertebrae. 
If the tumors start in your spine, they’re called primary tumors. They might be related to a disease like leukemia or lymphoma, or they might be the result of a genetic problem. 

If the tumors begin in another part of your body, they’re called secondary (or metastatic) tumors. They might begin as lung, breast, prostate or kidney cancer, and then spread to your spine.


Spinal tumors have different symptoms, depending on their location and type. Radiating back pain is a common symptom of both cancerous and noncancerous spinal tumors. But many people have back pain, so doctors usually look for other symptoms, including:

  • An abnormal cool sensation or a loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, legs, knees or ankles
  • Decreased sensitivity to heat, cold and pain
  • Difficulty walking, or more frequent falls
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Muscle weakness, particularly in your arms or legs
  • Muscle spasms
  • Paralysis in varying degrees and different parts of the body


To diagnose a spinal tumor, your doctor may order tests, such as:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans. These are sometimes done in conjunction with another test called a myelogram, in which dye is injected into your spine, making it easier to view the results of the scan.
  • X-ray
  • Biopsy, in which a small tissue sample of the tumor is examined to determine whether it’s cancerous

Treatment Options

If your tumor is small and noncancerous, your doctor may suggest simply monitoring it for changes. Over-the-counter medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), can help ease pain and swelling.

In other cases, you may consider:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor: New techniques can minimize the risk of complications and damage to your surrounding nerves.

  • Radiation therapy: This is often used if your tumor is cancerous, if it can’t be completely removed surgically or if surgery is considered too risky.

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery: This advanced technique sends a targeted beam of radiation to your tumor with pinpoint accuracy.

  • Chemotherapy to destroy or slow the growth of cancerous cells.

  • Clinical trials: You may be eligible to participate in studies investigating new drugs and treatments.

Find Spine Care Near You

When you have degenerative disc disease, the Aurora Spine Program makes it easier for you to get back to the things that matter most. With a single entry point and your own care coordinator, you’ll be connected to an integrated team of specialists all working together on your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about our program locations in eastern Wisconsin:

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