A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in or around the spine. If that growth originates in the spine, the tumor is called a primary spine tumor. If the cancer first developed somewhere else in the body and then spread to the spine, the resulting tumor is called a spine metastases.
Tumors of the spine may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
Tumors can occur in the spinal cord, in the membranes surrounding the spinal cord, or between the membranes and bones of the spine. Sometimes tumors can develop in the spine as a result of a genetic abnormality.
As a spinal tumor grows, it can press on nerves or shift the bones of the spine. Damage to the nerves of the spinal cord can cause back pain, muscle weakness, abnormal sensations or loss of sensation in the arms and legs, loss of bowel or bladder control, and other symptoms that may affect more than just the spine. If left untreated, all spinal tumors can cause permanent damage.
The radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons at the Swedish Radiosurgery Center in Seattle are able to effectively treat both benign and malignant spinal tumors.
Benign spine tumors
Benign tumors of the spine do not contain any cancer cells. Although benign spinal tumors do not spread to other parts of the body, they can damage the nerves and bones of the spine.
Some examples of benign tumors are:
- Osteoid ostoma and osteoblastoma
- Giant cell tumor
Malignant spine tumors
Malignant spinal tumors can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain.
Some examples of malignant spine tumors include:
Radiosurgery for spine tumors
The spine is a critical structure. It is the pipeline through which signals travel from the brain to all parts of the body. It also forms part of the scaffolding that keeps the body upright. Therefore, the goal of any spinal tumor treatment is to safely remove the risk the tumor poses to the nerves and bones of the spine and to avoid compromising basic body functions.
Because of its accuracy, CyberKnife radiosurgery is a good treatment option for primary spinal tumors. It may be used alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy and/or conventional radiation therapy.
During treatment, the CyberKnife aims individual beams of radiation at the same target from multiple directions and angles according to a customized treatment plan. The CyberKnife moves around the patient and delivers the beams one at a time.
Alone, each of those beams of radiation is not strong enough to damage the tissue it travels through on the way to the target. Where they meet, however, the combined strength is able to destroy the abnormal tumor cells. The combined dose of radiation from all of those individual beams is much higher than the dose that can be delivered by conventional radiation, which often leads to better and safer tumor control and cure.
Depending on where your spine tumor is located, you may be fitted with a light-weight mesh mask (for tumors in the upper cervical region) or a body cradle. Both of these accessories help CyberKnife precisely target the tumor and ensure your body is positioned in the same position during imaging and treatment appointments.
An alternative to surgery
Radiosurgery may be an alternative to spine surgery, so you are able to:
- Avoid general anesthesia, an incision in your back, and the risk of infection or other surgical complications
- Experience a much shorter recovery time than after surgery. CyberKnife patients usually leave the Radiosurgery Center right after each treatment and resume their normal activities.
Your doctor may recommend radiosurgery as an alternative to radiosurgery because of your age or other medical conditions, including not being a good surgical candidate. Your doctor also may recommend radiosurgery if part of your tumor remains after surgery or if it recurs.
Our team of experts
The radiosurgery experts at the Swedish Radiosurgery Center have many years of experience using radiosurgery to treat tumors of the spine. Our radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons are able to use leading-edge technology to produce the very best possible results.