Cancer of the Spine

Two types of cancer can occur in the spine: a primary cancer or a metastatic cancer which originates from another site in the body. If left untreated, they can eventually invade and destroy surrounding tissue structures and result in permanent and severe consequences including paralysis and death.


Although it’s not entirely clear why spinal tumours develop, experts suspect that exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, having a compromised immune system, and having previously had cancer can all influence whether an individual will develop spinal cancer. Some hereditary conditions and syndromes (such as Neurofibromatosis 2 and Von Hippel-Lindau disease) can also cause or increase the likelihood of tumours developing.


You may experience pain at the site of the tumour or generalised back pain that gets worse at night, loss of sensation or muscle weakness in different parts of your body, difficulty walking, and loss of bladder or bowel functions. Pain from your back may spread into your hips or legs, and you may develop spinal deformities such as kyphosis. If the tumour is pressing against your spinal cord, you may begin to experience paralysis to varying degrees.


To determine the severity and ideal course of treatment for spinal cancer, diagnostic imaging is critical. Your GP or healthcare professional will usually commission an MRI to assess the tumour, but other forms of diagnostics including CT scans, x-rays, or ultrasound may also be used depending on the circumstance.


There are currently three methods of treating spinal tumours: surgical resection of the tumour, stereotactic radiation, and chemotherapy. Surgical resection involves an operation to remove as much of the tumour as possible. Stereotactic radiation delivers high doses of concentrated radiation which are precisely targeted at a tumour, and chemotherapy is often administered intravenously or orally. The option which is best suited to your individual condition will be decided during the consultation with your specialist.

Where complete removal of spinal cancer is not available, procedures can be undertaken to minimise pain, reduce the amount of cancer in the spine, preserve neurological functions, and prolong life. Physical and occupational therapy may also be recommended to help maintain or regain as much function as possible.

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