Spinal Cancer – Our Treatment Options

Spinal Cancer: Detection & Treatment Options

An effective spinal cancer treatment plan begins with an accurate diagnosis. Our team of cancer experts uses advanced imaging technologies and tools to precisely evaluate tumors in the spinal cord and column.

Once we have made an accurate spinal cancer diagnosis and determined the location, type and grade of the tumor, we’ll work with you to formulate a treatment plan that best suits your needs. Because of the complexities of spinal tumors, treatment should be based on a tailored, individualized approach.

Physical exam, neurological exam and health history

Within the first two days of your arrival at our hospital, we will perform a complete array of diagnostic tests, and thoroughly review your medical history and symptoms. Your doctor will also likely conduct a physical exam to check the spine for abnormal curvature, determine muscle strength, and evaluate reflexes and range of motion. Your doctor may also conduct a neurological examination, which includes a series of questions and tests for vision, hearing, motor skills, memory, cognition, and other neurologic functions.

Reduced wait times for appointments and test results

We understand that waiting for test results can create a great deal of stress. To ease anxiety and help you begin your spinal cancer treatment sooner, we provide reduced wait times for appointments and test results. Our turnaround time goal—from the time of the scan to providing results so treatment planning can occur—is four hours.

Comfort equipment

We also want you to be as comfortable as possible during your imaging tests. Our team uses padding and comfort equipment, as well as a variety of positioning devices, to help you feel more relaxed during scans and procedures.

If any tumor is found in the spine (and there is no other known cancer), a complete examination of all common organs where cancer develops is usually warranted. Evaluation may include:

  • Complete medical history
  • Complete physical examination
  • Complete neurological examination
  • Radiographic studies of the spine, chest and GI system to screen for tumors
  • MRI and CAT scans to examine the spine.

Treatments for each common type of spinal tumor is explained in more detail below.

Treatment of Vertebral Column Tumors

Because most of these tumors arise from advanced cancer from another organ, the goal of spinal treatment is usually to:

  • Control the severe pain that often occurs with these tumors (e.g. by removing pressure on the nerve roots)
  • Preserve neurological function (e.g. by removing the pressure on the spinal cord)
  • Fix structural instability in the spine (e.g. by reconstructing the unstable spine with aspinal fusion)

Treating Intradural­Extramedullary and Intramedullary Tumors

These types of tumors are usually surgically removed. The goal of treatment is usually to:

  • Totally remove the tumor
  • Preserve neurological function

The spinal cord and nerves are highly sensitive and avoiding damage to these structures is a critical part of surgery. Monitoring techniques may be used throughout the surgery to determine the function of the spinal cord as the tumors are being removed (e.g. SSEP).

If the tumor cannot be completely removed (e.g. if it adheres to many spinal nerves), post­operative radiation therapy may improve outcome in some cases. If the tumor is metastatic, chemotherapy may also be helpful.

Following the surgery, it may take some time for the nerves to fully heal. Usually rehabilitation and time significantly helps improve a patient’s neurological function.