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  • Arthur Risser Lehman (1910 - 1947)
    Death Certificate
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Spine tumors and spine cancer can develop in the bones, nerves, and other tissues that make up the spine, which facilitates movement and supports your body.

A spinal cord tumor is a noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) growth in or around the spinal cord -- low-grade malignant (cancerous) tumors that grow slowly, or high-grade tumors that grow aggressively. People may have weak muscles, lose sensation in particular areas of the body, or become unable to control bowel and bladder function. Magnetic resonance imaging can usually detect spinal cord tumors.

  • Primary spinal cord tumors may be cancerous or noncancerous. They may originate in the cells within or next to the spinal cord. Only about one third of primary spinal cord tumors originate in the cells within the spinal cord. These tumors can extend within the cord and cause a fluid-filled cavity (syrinx) to form.
    • Fewer than 10 percent of spine tumors begin in the spine. The ones that do are called primary tumors.
    • Most primary spinal cord tumors originate in cells next to the spinal cord, such as those of the meninges—the layers of tissue that cover the spinal cord
    • Meningiomas and neurofibromas, which originate in cells next to the cord, are the most common primary spinal tumors. They are noncancerous.
  • Secondary spinal cord tumors, which are more common, are metastases of cancer originating in another part of the body and thus are always cancerous. Metastases most commonly spread to the vertebrae from cancers that originate in the lungs, breasts, prostate gland, kidneys, or thyroid gland. Metastases usually put pressure on (compress) the spinal cord or nerve roots from the outside. Lymphomas may also spread to the spine and compress the spinal cord.
    • Tumors from other parts of the body can spread (metastasize) to the vertebrae, the supporting network around the spinal cord or, in rare cases, the spinal cord itself.

Most spine tumors are metastatic — they spread from cancer in a different part of the body.

Some spine tumors, such as astrocytomas, happen more commonly in children and teenagers.

Spinal tumors or growths of any kind can lead to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis. A spinal tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability.

Treatment for a spinal tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.

The causes of spinal tumors are still largely unknown. Although there are some genetic conditions which may contribute to the development of spinal cancer, the risk factors are much less defined for spinal cancer than for other cancers in the body.

The symptoms of spinal cancer depend on several factors, including the tumor type, size, location and extent, as well as age, health history and more. Some common spinal cancer symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness and difficulty with urination.

The symptoms of spinal cancer may occur very slowly. Other times, they occur quickly, even over a matter of hours or days. Metastatic spinal tumors, which have spread to the spine from another location in the body, often progress quickly.

Common spinal cancer symptoms:

  • The most noticeable sign of spinal cancer is pain. Pain can come from the tumor's presence in the spinal column, pushing on sensitive nerve endings or causing spinal instability. When the spine is not lined up properly, other physically notable symptoms may result (e.g., changes in posture, Kyphosis or hunchback).
  • When the tumor presses on the spinal cord, symptoms may begin with numbness or tingling in the arms or legs. Next, there may be clumsiness, not knowing where the feet are, and difficulty with buttons or keys. As the disease progresses, spinal cancer symptoms may grow to include weakness, inability to move the legs and eventually paralysis.
  • Some common signs of spinal tumors may include the following:
    • Pain (back and/or neck pain, arm and/or leg pain)
    • Muscle weakness, tingling or numbness in one or both arms or legs
    • Difficulty walking or balancing
    • General loss of sensation
    • Difficulty with urination (incontinence)
    • Change in bowel habits (retention)
    • Paralysis to varying degrees
    • Spinal deformities
    • Pain or difficulty with standing

Spinal cancer risk factors:

  • Prior history of cancer: Cancers that may be more likely to spread to the spine include breast, lung, prostate and multiple myeloma.
  • Compromised immune system: Some people whose immune systems are compromised develop spinal cord lymphomas.
  • Hereditary disorders: Von Hippel-Lindau disease and Neurofibromatosis (NF2) are inherited conditions that are sometimes associated with tumors in the spinal cord.
  • Exposures: Exposure to radiation therapy or industrial chemicals may increase the likelihood of developing spinal cancer.


  • Spinal tumors are a diverse group of lesions ranging from benign (non-cancerous) tumors treated with surgical resection, to malignant (cancerous) tumors that require multidisciplinary care involving surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
  • They are diagnosed and treated by their location and the type of cells they contain.
  • There are two main types of spinal cancer:
    • 1) Primary tumors of the spinal vertebra (bones of the spine), nerve sheath (the protective lining that covers the nerves), or spinal cord
    • 2) Metastatic tumors in the spine that spread from another part of the body (primary location) like lung or breast cancer.
    • 3) There also is a third type of spinal cancer that is related to disorders of the blood and bone marrow (example: multiple myeloma).
  • Most primary and metastatic spine tumors are epidural tumors. These tumors grow in the bones of your spine. As they grow, they can compress your spinal cord, nerve roots, and spinal fluid.
  • Metastatic tumors are by far the most common type of spinal cancer, with lung, breast, and prostate cancer being the primary sources of cancer in most cases. In metastatic tumors, cancer cells travel from the original site through the blood or lymph system and form new tumors in another part of the body.
  • Metastatic cancers are more serious than primary cancers due to the aggressive nature of spread throughout the body. Cancer can develop in any part of the spine from the cervical (neck) spine all the way down to the sacrum (triangular bone at the bottom of your spine) and ilium (hip bones). Tumors may develop within the bone of the spine but also within the spinal canal.
  • Another type is intradural tumors, which include:
    • intramedullary tumors that grow within the spinal cord, such as ependymomas and astrocytomas
    • extramedullary tumors that grow outside the spinal cord, such as meningiomas, schwannomas, and myxopapillary ependymomas
  • Tumors called nerve plexus tumors grow next to the spine in the nerve plexus. They include tumors such as neurofibromas and ganglioneuromas.

Prognosis of Spinal Cord Cancer (Lymphoma of the Spinal Cord) Untreated primary lymphoma of the central nervous system is rapidly fatal with median survival of only months from the time of diagnosis.

The spinal cancer survival rate is steadily improving as researchers and clinicians continue to discover new and better ways to treat spinal tumors. However, it’s important to remember that the survival rate is a statistic that was calculated based on the outcomes of many people who had spine cancer several years ago and, in many cases, before the current standard of care was available.

  • There are many factors that can influence the spinal cancer survival rate, such as:
    • The type of tumor
    • The location of the tumor
    • Whether the tumor can be treated with surgery
    • The patient’s age
    • The patient’s overall health

If spinal tumors are caught early and treated aggressively, it may be possible to prevent further loss of function and regain nerve function. Depending on its location, a tumor that presses against the spinal cord itself may be life-threatening.

Even after taking all of these factors into account, the spinal cancer survival rate is still only a rough estimate at best. The most reliable source of information is always a personal consultation with a physician who is familiar with a patient’s case.

Notables dying from Spinal Cancer:

  1. Wikipedia - Deaths from Spinal Cancer (37 people listed)

Resources & Additional Reading:

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