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Being diagnosed with a cervical spine tumor can be frightening — there are many questions that come up, and it can often be a challenge to find the right answers. However, by doing research and consulting with a qualified medical professional, you can find the information you need and feel more confident about your treatment and recovery.

It is important to note that treatment and recovery for cervical spine tumors depend on a number of factors. These factors include where the tumor is located, if neurological deficits are present and whether or not you will need surgery. Once your doctor has answered these questions, a more definite recovery time can be established.

Treatments

Treatments for cervical spine tumors are divided into two categories: surgical and non-surgical. One of the first things you and your doctor will determine is whether your cervical spine tumor should be surgically resected. Important factors to consider when making this decision are the size and location of the tumor, the severity of your symptoms and your age and overall health.

Non-Surgical Treatment

If you are not a good fit for surgery, because of the size or location of the tumor, your overall health or any other preexisting conditions, your doctor may recommend one or more non-surgical treatments, which include radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation is useful for a wide range of cervical spine tumors, while chemotherapy is generally used either to supplement resections of malignant tumors or to treat patients with widespread malignancies.

Surgical Treatment

On the other hand, if you and your doctor decide surgery is the best way forward, the next step is to decide whether cervical fusion is necessary. Sometimes a cervical spine tumor can alter surrounding tissue and bone so much that if it is removed, the neck will lose structural stability.

For this reason, your neurosurgeon may perform a cervical fusion after resecting your tumor. A cervical fusion consists of placing a bone graft to stabilize the space left by the tumor. Cervical fusions are a useful procedure for strengthening and protecting your neck, but they can influence the timeline of your recovery.

It is important to note that tumor removal is part of a multifacet treatment plan, which will typically be used in conjunction with radiation or chemotherapy, either before or after the surgery.

If Cervical Fusion Is Necessary

If cervical fusion is necessary to treat your cervical spine tumor, you and your surgeon will need to take additional measures to allow for a proper recovery. This is because the bone graft can take a year or two to integrate, or fuse, into the surrounding bone.

While patients typically regain most of their spinal strength and mobility long before the graft completely fuses, it’s still important to protect the graft for as long as it is vulnerable. For about the first six weeks after surgery, you will wear a cervical collar, which keeps the neck in place and protects the graft from damage in the early stages of its fusion. Then, for the first year or two after the operation, you will regularly consult with your surgeon to monitor the graft. These check-ups will consist of X-rays, which allow your surgeon to visualize the fusion as it progresses. It’s important that you follow your surgeon’s instructions during this time, as he or she will give you precise guidelines on how and when to return to physical activity.

If Cervical Fusion Is Not Necessary

If surgically removing your cervical spine tumor will not cause stability issues in your neck, then cervical fusion probably is not necessary. In this case, the recovery from surgery will be similar to that of most other tumor resections in the nervous system.

Recovery

Cervical spine tumor surgery has two goals, which are to remove the tumor and to alleviate pre-operative neurological deficits. For this reason, recovery is best understood as a two-part process. The first part is the recovery from the surgery itself, while the other part is the gradual restoration of neurological function.

Surgical Aspect

Recovery from the operation is fairly consistent across all types of cervical spine tumors. You will wake up in an intensive care unit (ICU) or a similar facility, depending on the hospital in which the surgery is performed. After resting there for 24 to 48 hours, you will begin to regain your independence. Intravenous pain medication will be replaced by oral pain medication as soon as possible, usually within the first few days after surgery. In almost all cases, you will work with a therapist to sit in a chair and to walk the first day after surgery. The goal of therapy in the immediate period after surgery is to get to the point where you can navigate your home and take care of yourself in your home with minimal assistance.

When you are able to walk, eat and use the restroom independently, you will be allowed to return home. Most patients reach this milestone at about three to five days post-operation. From there, you can expect to make a full recovery from the effects of the operation after three or four weeks.

Neurological Aspect

It usually takes three or four weeks to recover from the effects of a cervical spine tumor operation, but the neurological aspect of the recovery is much more variable. Because cervical spine tumors range in size and location and come in several different types, they can cause a wide range of neurological deficits. For example, some cervical spine tumors might cause issues with hand function, while others might cause issues with bladder control. Symptoms vary; therefore, recovery varies.

Your surgeon may prescribe physical therapy to help you regain strength, balance and mobility. In more severe cases, a full recovery from pre-operation neurological deficits can take a year or two of physical therapy. Talk with your surgeon to better understand your condition and what expectations you should set for your recovery.

Cervical spine tumors cause pain and discomfort that can make it hard to maintain an active lifestyle. If you are looking for a way to relieve your symptoms, it’s important to research your condition and talk with a qualified medical professional. You can use the information in this guide to form questions for your next medical consultation.

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