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Health Information Center

Spinal Tumor

  • Pamela Jones, MA
Publication Type:


Spinal Tumor


A spinal tumor is a growth in the area of the spine. The term spinal tumor may be used when a tumor is in:
  • The spinal cord
  • The bones around the spinal cord
  • Nerves coming from the spinal cord
  • The soft tissue around the spine

The tumor can cause the spine to not work as it should. Tumors may be:

  • Benign—noncancerous and does not spread to nearby tissue
  • Malignant—cancer that can spread to nearby tissue and other parts of the body
Both kinds of tumors can cause serious problems.
Spinal Cord and Vertebra.

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The most common cause is the spread of cancer from other parts of the body. Any cancer in the body can spread to the bones around the spinal cord. The cancers that do this most often are:

Less often the cancers will spread to the spinal cord itself.

Tumors can also start growing in the spinal cord or the nerves that come from it.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of spinal tumors are:

  • A weak immune system
  • History of cancer


Small tumors may not cause any health problems. Larger tumors may press on or affect nearby nerves or blood vessels. The most common health problem is back pain that was not caused by an injury. The pain may get worse over time and spread to the hips, legs, or arms.

Other health problems will depend on where the tumor is. A person may have:

  • Problems sensing cold, heat, or pain in the legs, arms, or chest
  • Loss of muscle strength in the legs, arms, or chest
  • Problems using the arms and legs for basic tasks like walking
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Paralysis


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. Neurological tests may also be done to look for the source of back or neck problems.

Pictures of the spine will be taken. This can be done with:

Other tests may be done to learn more about the tumor.


Treatment will depend on the type of tumor and where it is. Choices may include one or more of the following:

  • Watching a benign tumor that is not causing problems
  • Surgery to remove the tumor
  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells with drugs
  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor with radiation


There are no known ways to prevent spinal tumors.





  • Spinal cord tumors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/spinal-cord-tumors.
  • Spinal cord tumor. UCSF Health website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/spinal-cord-tumor.
  • Spinal tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Spinal-Tumors.
  • Spinal tumors. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center website. Available at: https://www.mdanderson.org/cancer-types/spinal-tumors.html.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.