What Is Spinal Cancer?

What Is Spinal Cancer?

Primary spinal cancer develops from cells within the spinal cord or from its surrounding structures (the bones, tissues, fluid or nerves of the spine).

Part of the central nervous system (CNS), the spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue which extends from the base of the brain down the back. It is surrounded by three protective membranes and is enclosed within the vertebrae. The spinal cord carries important messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Depending on the location and type of spinal tumor, different signs and symptoms can develop, especially as a tumor grows and affects your spinal cord, surrounding nerves or blood vessels. Signs and symptoms of tumors affecting the spinal cord may include:

  • Back pain, sometimes radiating to other parts of your body
  • Loss of sensation, especially in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Muscle weakness that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves or part of the spinal cord is compressed.

Back pain is a common early symptom of both noncancerous and cancerous spinal tumors. Pain may also spread beyond your back to your hips, legs, feet or arms and may become more severe over time in spite of treatment.

Spinal tumors progress at different rates. In general, cancerous spinal tumors grow more quickly, and noncancerous spinal tumors tend to develop very slowly.