What are spinal cord tumors?A spinal cord tumor is a noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) growth in or around the spinal cord. The spinal cord contains bundles of nerves that carry messages betweent the brain and the body. Because the spinal cord is rigidly
encased in bone, any tumor that grows on or near it can compress the nerves, and interfere in this communication. Spinal cord tumors are much less common than brain tumors.
Spinal cord tumors may be primary or secondary. Primary spinal cord tumors originate in the cells within or next to the spinal cord. Only about 10% of primary spinal cord tumors originate in the cells within the spinal cord. The rest originate in cells next to the spinal cord. Secondary spinal cord tumors, which are more common, are metastases of cancer originating in another part of the body and thus are always cancerous. Metastases most commonly spread to the vertebrae from cancers that originate in the lung, breast, prostate gland, kidney, or thyroid gland. The most common spinal cord tumors (or intramedullary tumors) are ependymomas, astrocytomas and hemangioblastomas. The next group of spine tumors is known as intradural-extramedullary tumors. These tumors are located within the covering of the spinal cord (the dura) but outside the substance of the spinal cord itself. The most common intradural-extramedullary tumors are meningiomas and neurofibromas. A third group of tumors are the primary bone tumors. These are uncommon and rarely need surgical intervention. Some examples of primary bone tumors are chordomas, osteoblastomas, osteoid osteomas, aneurysmal bone cysts and vertebral hemangiomas. Finally, metastatic tumors are quite commonly seen.