Spinal tumors are growths that proliferate within the spinal cord or within the bones of the spine (vertebra) and can be either cancerous or non-cancerous. These growths can either originate in the spine or result from tumors spreading from other parts of the body (metastatic).
These growths can lead to debilitating pain, difficulty in moving, neurological problems or even paralysis in some cases. Whether the growth is cancerous notwithstanding, such tumors should be attended to with urgency as they can lead to permanent disability or even death.
Treatment options for spinal growths include surgery as the primary choice, followed by radiation, chemotherapy and other medications. Highly-skilled, delicate surgery for removal of the tumor with an acceptable risk of spinal cord or nerve damage is often the treatment of choice. In cases where the tumor cannot be excised completely, surgery is followed up with radiation and/or chemotherapy.
The various options used in treatment of spinal tumors depend on the location and type of the tumor and includes the following:
Monitoring – When the tumor is discovered incidentally during check-up for something different, regular CT or MRI scans are recommended to check for any potentially harmful changes with time; this is especially done in elderly patients in whom therapy could produce other complications.
Surgery – This is often the treatment of choice and is effective in releasing pressure on the spine; of course, it comes with the rider of potential nerve damage. Newer techniques and microsurgeries using high-powered surgeries and even the use of robotic surgery are now enabling surgeons to perform effective surgeries, where it wasn’t possible before.
However, even with these latest techniques, it’s sometimes not possible to remove the entire mass, and that’s when radiotherapy and chemotherapy are deployed. Recovery from spinal surgery can take its own time and there might be temporary loss of sensation or other nerve damage complications.
Radiation therapy – This may be used to clear off tumor remnants after surgery or on inoperable tumors. They are also used to treat metastatic tumors or to relieve pain when surgery is too risky. Stereotactic radiosurgery (Gamma knife) is a sophisticated type of radiotherapy that minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Another specialized type of radiotherapy called proton beam therapy is used to treat some special types of vertebral tumors as well as childhood cancers where spinal radiation is needed.
Chemotherapy – These medications may be taken orally or as injections to destroy cancerous cells from proliferating. It can be used in conjunction with other anti-cancerous therapies like radiotherapy and surgery or alone. Their side-effects are many and include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair-loss and increased frequency of infections.
Corticosteroids and other drugs – These are given to reduce the inflammation and swellings induced by tumors and are used in conjunction with radiotherapy as well as surgery.
These methods used alone or in combination are usually successful in controlling the spread and trauma of spinal tumors.
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