Spine cancers, also called spine tumours, can be either benign or malignant.
They are often named after the type of cell from which they grow.
The spine (backbone) is made up of bones, muscles, soft tissue and ligaments. Inside the middle of the spine, there is a spinal cord containing nerves, blood vessels and cells inside it.
The spine, including the spinal cord:
- connects and supports your body from your neck (base of your brain) down to your lower back.
- also acts to receive and send messages from the brain to other parts of the body.
A spinal tumour can begin in any part of the spine, such as:
- lower back
- spinal cord
- soft tissue or muscles of the spine
- bones of the spine.
A benign spine tumour:
- is not cancer.
- is made up of slow-growing cells.
- can grow but it should not spread to other body parts.
A malignant spine tumour:
- is cancer.
- can grow quickly and spread.
A spine tumour takes up space on or in your spine. As the tumour grows, it can press on the bones, muscles, nerves or the spinal cord itself. This can cause pain along the spine and if pressing against your spinal cord, it may lower the blood supply that gets through – this may cause serious damage.
Spine tumours growing close to major nerves can affect how messages are sent between the body and the brain.
Some signs for this include:
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- problems with walking
- a weakness or tingling feeling in arms and legs.
Your first tests for diagnosis
Placing you at the centre of our work, your specialist will determine where your cancer started (what type of cell) and what type of spine tumour it is.
To determine your condition, our experts will work with you and support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as:
- Imaging (scans and x-rays)
- Biopsy (if needed)
- Pathology (blood tests).
To treat spine tumours properly, it is important we have a correct diagnosis. To do this we will need to run scans to find the presence of a spine tumour. The scans will also show where it is and how big it is and this will help your Peter Mac doctor put the best treatment plan in place for you
Some key imaging or scan tests include:
- Computerised Tomography (CT) scans (3-D x-ray pictures giving more information than a normal x-ray)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans (using magnet machinery to take pictures of inside body parts)
Following the scans, we may perform a biopsy. A biopsy is vital to diagnose the right condition. This test can provide your Peter Mac doctor with information about the type of cell that is growing into a tumour.
A biopsy can be either:
- the removal of a small sample of cells and/or tissue from or around the tumour. This sample is sent to our laboraties for testing. Testing the sample will show if cancer cells are present and help to pinpoint the exact type of spine tumour.
Focusing on you (treatment)
Your Peter Mac doctor will discuss and develop the best treatment plan for you. Treatments will depend on your diagnosis.
Spine tumour treatment will depend on:
- whether it is benign or malignant
- the cell type of the tumour
- its size, growth and location in the spine
- your general health and wellbeing
- your needs.
Our team of experts from surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy will come together and develop the best approach to treat your spine tumour.
Treatments can vary and may include:
- surgery for tumours that can be reached, to remove all or part of it
- chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) to help shrink the cancer cells before surgery or to destroy the cancer cells after surgery.
- radiation therapy (strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy to kill and/or slow cancer cells) either before or after surgery or both.
- clinical trials or
- a combination of these.
Enhancing your care (after treatment)
After effective treatment, patients will continue to see their specialist every three months. These visits are used to monitor your health and may include tests such as pathology, imaging (scans and x-rays) and biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you.
Living with cancer
We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. Your lifestyle and that of your loved one's will be disrupted and changed. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy.
There are many expert groups available to support you through this time, including:
At Peter Mac, we focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our spine tumour experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care.
Our specialist nurses can refer you to our:
- allied health services
- patient information resources
- support groups.