Tumors that can be either cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign) may occur within the spinal cord or vertebrae. Whether a spinal tumor is cancerous or not, it can cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in pain and potential disability.
The primary symptom of spinal tumors is back pain. The pain is sometimes worse while resting at night or when first waking in the morning, and may or may not occur with normal daily activities. In addition to pain, if the tumor causes pressure on the spinal cord, it may cause weakness in the legs and hips, and may even cause paralysis. Some tumors will also destroy bone and fracture vertebrae, which can cause noticeable spinal deformity.
Noncancerous tumors generally grow slowly, and it may take years before symptoms develop. Cancerous spinal tumors tend to grow quickly. When they arise, they are usually metastatic, meaning they originate and spread from a primary tumor elsewhere in the body. The most common cancerous tumors that metastasize are breast, lung, thyroid, and kidney cancer.
Spinal tumors are not the cause of most back pain. However if back pain occurs at rest, worsens at night, and persists, it may be the result of a tumor that requires medical attention. Treatments vary depending on the location within the spine and type of tumor.