After a spinal tumor diagnosis, you and your doctor will consider treatment options that will give you the best possible outcome.
An estimated 10,000 spinal tumors will be diagnosed this year. This accounts for both benign or non-cancerous tumors (55% to 65%) and malignant or cancerous tumors (35% to 45%). The treatments available are varied and recommended depending on the nature of the tumor, location and other factors such as your age or health status.
Symptoms of spinal tumors
When considering the various spinal tumor symptoms that can arise from this condition, it’s important to note everything from the mildest twinges to the more severe issues such as numbness or pain. Here are some of the most common spinal tumor symptoms experienced with a range of different types of tumors.
Perhaps the most frequently reported of spinal tumors symptoms is pain. This type of pain is called “non-mechanical”, meaning it doesn’t stem from an injury or overexertion due to physical activity. This isn’t to say that this pain won’t increase with more physical activity. Many individuals also report that it can worsen at night.
This type of pain is usually experienced in the middle or lower back and can spread to the legs, feet, hips and arms. It may also intensify as the tumor grows and presses on nerves. It’s typically not very responsive to non-surgical pain relief methods used for mechanical back pain.
When spinal tumors symptoms start to arise, many of them tend to be of a neurological nature. This is due to the pressure being placed on the nerves around the tumor. Some of these nerve-based symptoms can include:
- Difficulty walking properly, possibly resulting in falls
- Muscle weakness in the arms, chest or legs
- A decrease in sensitivity to stimuli, such as heat, cold or pain
- Bowel and bladder control issues
- Scoliosis from a benign tumor pushing the spine out of alignment
- Paralysis in various parts of the body, dependent on where the tumor is located and the nerves it is compressing
Spinal tumor treatments
There are numerous treatments for spinal tumors. These treatments are chosen based on the spinal tumors symptoms, the location of the tumor and the nature of the tumor (benign or malignant). They will also be determined in part on whether or not the tumor is primary (originating in one area and staying there) or metastatic (having spread from somewhere else in the body).
Both non-surgical and surgical methods can be used to treat spinal tumors. Following are the treatment options that are routinely used.
Non-surgical treatment options
Non-surgical treatments may be the first avenue your doctor explores with you. If your tumor is asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic (but not impeding your day-to-day activities) or is not changing, your doctor may recommend that your tumor is monitored on a regular basis with the use of MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). This will give him or her a non-invasive means of keeping an eye on your tumor and ensuring that it isn’t growing or changing.
In the case of potentially metastatic tumors (cancerous tumors that spread to other parts of the body), you may be a good candidate for chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Both of these treatments are non-surgical options that can be used to successfully treat spinal tumors.
Obviously, your doctor will be able to best guide you to the therapies he or she feels will be of the most benefit to offer the best possible outcome.
Surgical treatment options
If your tumor is causing serious spinal tumors symptoms, is metastatic or is radioresistant (a tumor that does not respond well to radiation therapy), spinal tumor surgery may be your best option.
The surgical approach chosen for your treatment will be dependent on the type of tumor you have and where it’s located. For instance, primary spinal tumors can often be removed through a technique known as a complete en bloc resection. This involves removing the entire tumor and the adjacent tissue, in hopes of getting “clean margins” and thus, curing the cancer.
When looking at metastatic tumors, surgical treatment can become a little hazier. If the tumor has spread extensively throughout the spine, it may be difficult to remove all of the cancerous tissue. In some instances, however, a resection may be possible. Many surgeons will consider performing surgery on metastatic tumors to help restore neurological function, eliminate pain and stabilize the spine. Metastatic tumors that are resistant to chemotherapy or radiation are also considered for surgery, as the ability to reduce or eliminate the metastatic tissue in the spine can help alleviate symptoms.
Recovery from spinal tumor surgery
The recovery time for spinal surgery varies for each individual. Factors such as the involvement of the tumor in the spine, the amount of tissue that had to be removed, the location of the tumor and any stabilization that might have had to be done will play a large part in the recovery process.
Most people that undergo spinal tumor surgery can expect a hospital stay ranging from 1 day to 14, depending on how involved their surgery was and their rate of recovery.
Week 1 – 2
Once you’ve returned home from the hospital, it’s vital that you follow your doctor’s instructions. You’ll feel more tired than usual but this is normal. While your body is healing, it requires a lot of energy. Get plenty of rest.
Your surgical site may require dressings; be sure to keep the area clean, dry and, if recommended, covered. The skin will be repairing itself, so it’s vital to make sure you give it the optimum environment to do so.
Exercise is important to keep your blood circulating and delivering fresh oxygen to your tissues. Gentle walks a few times a day can help not only with circulation but also with keeping your muscles in shape.
Avoid lifting as much as possible — you may have a restriction placed on the amount of weight you can pick up.
Weeks 3 – 5
During this phase of your recovery, you will probably no longer require pain medications. Your energy will be increasing and you may be able to return to work if you work a light-duty job.
At some point during this time period, your surgeon will likely want to see you for a recheck. During this appointment, your healing progress will be assessed. You may also be referred for an MRI to help monitor the area where the tumor was removed.
You may also be cleared to partake in more activities. Be sure to still adhere to lifting restrictions and any other limitations your doctor has placed on your physical activities.
Weeks 6 – 10
By the end of week six, you may be feeling almost completely back to your old self. You shouldn’t be experiencing any pain from the surgery. If you work in a high-impact job, you may be cleared to return to work at this point. Your incision should be completely healed.
If you’ve been attending physical therapy, it’s important to continue to go to your appointments, even if you’re feeling better. This step is vital in regaining your strength and flexibility.
You may be required to have regular check-ups and MRIs or other imaging to determine if the entire tumor was removed, or, if not, if it has grown again.
Knowing what to expect from your spinal tumor surgery is the first step in getting the most from the procedure. It’s also helpful to choose a doctor close to you in the New Jersey or Tristate area so you have easy access to your provider.