What Is Cancer of the Spine?


Quick Answer

Cancer of the spine is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the spinal canal or the bones that make up the spine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes, the cancer does not originate in the spine but has traveled from other sites in the body.

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Full Answer

Tumors in the spine can be spinal cord tumors or vertebral tumors, says the Mayo Clinic. They begin inside the spinal cord or in the supporting cells outside the spinal cord. The first type of tumors are called intermedullary tumors, while the second type are called extramedullary tumors. These tumors are found in the spinal dura, the membrane that encases the spinal cord, says the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Other tumors of the spine include neurofibromas and ganglioneuromas, as MSK indicates. These grow next to the spine in the complex of nerves that ultimately control the person's arms and legs.

Symptoms of a spinal tumor include pain in the neck or back due to compressed nerves or compression fractures, says MSK and Spine-health. The patient also experiences numbness, tingling or weakness in his arms or legs. He may have trouble walking and have problems with hearing, seeing and other senses. He may also become incontinent. Whether these symptoms are worse during the day or at night can be a clue as to how the cancer has progressed.

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