Spinal Ependymomas

About Spinal Ependymomas

Spinal ependymomas are tumors that can arise within the spinal cord or in association with the spinal nerves. They are typically slow growing and can produce a gradual onset of a variety of symptoms including pain, weakness, and abnormal sensations in your legs or arms.

These tumors are usually functionally benign and cures can be achieved with surgery; however, they can invade the surrounding tissue, making complete removal difficult and on occasion impossible.

Common Symptoms of Spinal Ependymomas

Common symptoms of spinal ependymomas include pain, weakness or numbness of the arms/legs, walking difficulty, loss of coordination, or bowel/bladder problems.

Diagnosis of Spinal Ependymomas

Typically, symptoms occur slowing allowing ample time to diagnose a spinal ependymoma. Rarely, problems occur suddenly and diagnosis occurs after an emergency trip to the doctors or hospital. A spinal ependymoma is properly diagnosed through an MRI scan. If an MRI shows signs of a spinal ependymoma, typically no more tests are needed.

If it is a concern that the tumor has spread into the cerebrospinal fluid a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may be necessary. This type of testing looks for tumor cells in the spinal fluid.

Treatment Options for Spinal Ependymomas

Treatment options depend on the location of the tumor, grade of the tumor, and age of the person. Some possible treatments include:

  • Surgery – the procedure of choice to remove as much of the tumor as possible and to biopsy the cells for diagnosis
  • Radiation treatment – beams of x-rays,, gamma rays or protons are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is reserved for tumors that cannot be completely removed through surgery and demonstrate continued growth.