Spinal tumours

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

Cancer Education
4 min read

The spine (backbone) consists of bones, muscles, soft tissue, and ligaments. Inside the middle of the spine, there is a spinal cord holding 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 and acts to receive and send messages from the brain to other parts of the body. Spinal tumours can begin in any part of the spine, such as: 

  • Neck 

  • Back 

  • 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 and spread fast 

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. It may lower the blood supply that gets through if it presses against your spinal cord. This may cause considerable damage.  

Spine tumours growing close to major nerves can affect how the body and the brain send messages. 

Some signs for this include: 

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 

  • Problems with walking 

  • Weakness or tingling feeling in arms and legs 

Your first tests for diagnosis 

We place you at the centre of our work. Your specialist will find out where your cancer started (what type of cell) and what type of spine tumour it is.  

Our experts will work with you to find out about your condition. They will support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as: 

  • Imaging (scans and x-rays) 

  • Biopsy (if needed) 

  • Pathology (blood tests)


It is important we have a correct diagnosis to treat spine tumours. 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. This will help our doctors put the best treatment plan in place for you. 

Some key imaging or scan tests include: 

  • Computerised Tomography (CT) scans. These three-dimensional x-rays pictures give more information than a normal x-ray. 

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. These use 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 our doctors with information about the type of cell that is growing into a tumour. 

A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of cells and/or tissue from or around the tumour. This sample is sent to our laboratories for testing. Testing the sample will show if cancer cells are present. It will also help us to pinpoint the exact type of spine tumour. 

Focusing on your treatment 

Our 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 experts from surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy work together. They will develop the best approach to treat your spine tumour. 

Treatments can vary and may include: 

  • Surgery for tumours that we can reach, to remove all or part of it

  • Chemotherapy, or anti-cancer drugs. These will help shrink the cancer cells before surgery. We may also use them to destroy the cancer cells after surgery

  • Radiation therapy. These are strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy. They can kill and/or slow cancer cells either before or after surgery or both 

  • Clinical trials 

  • A combination of these

Enhancing your care after treatment 

After effective treatment, you will continue to see your specialist every three months. We use these visits to watch your health. They may include tests such as pathology, imaging (scans and x-rays) and biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you. 

Support for spinal tumours

We focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our spine tumour experts will help support you. They can also guide you to the best information and managed care. 

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our: 

Living with spinal tumours

We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. It will disrupt your lifestyle and that of your loved ones. 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: 

Pages related to Spinal tumours