Current estimates show that about 16,000 patients, approximately consisting of 10,000 males & 6,000 females, die every year from spinal tumors. Overall chance that a patient will develop a malignant tumor of the spinal cord in their lifetime is less than 1 percent. This means nearly 1 in 150 for a man and 1 in 190 for a woman are susceptible. Survival rates for spinal cord tumors vary widely, depending upon the type of tumor. Ideally, aim of spinal tumor treatment is to remove the tumor completely but this goal may be complicated by the risk of permanent damage to the spinal cord & nearby nerves.
What are Spinal Tumors?
Spinal tumor is an abnormal growth of cells seen within the spinal column or inside the spinal canal. Spinal tumors may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) in nature. Usually, these tumors develop in spinal column (vertebras) & are known as vertebral tumors while tumors originating in the spinal canal are called spinal cord tumors.
It is not clear as to why most spinal tumors develop. Medical experts suspect that abnormal or defective genes play a major role. But it is still not known whether such genetic abnormalities are inherited, happen spontaneously or are caused by the environment, such as exposure to harmful chemicals. In many cases, however, spinal cord tumors are coupled to known inherited syndromes such as von Hippel-Lindau disease & neurofibromatosis 2.
Although, exact cause of spinal tumors has not yet been identified, following factors are known to increase chances of these tumors developing within the spinal region.
- Neurofibromatosis 2 – This hereditary disorder causes benign (noncancerous) tumors to develop in nearby nerves associated with the function of hearing. It may lead to gradual hearing loss in one or both ears. Certain cases of Neurofibromatosis 2 can develop tumors within the spinal canal & multiply at a faster rate.
- Von Hippel-Lindau Disease – This is a rare multisystem disorder related to benign blood vessel tumors called hemangioblastomas in the brain, retina & spinal cord. It is also associated with different types of tumors found in kidneys & adrenal glands.
- Prior Cancer – Any form of cancer can spread (metastasize) to the spine, but cancers that are more likely to affect the spine are mainly the breast, lung, prostate cancers.
There are various signs & symptoms that accompany a spinal tumor, however, patients may experience a set of combination of these signs & symptoms depending upon the type & location of spinal tumor. Following list describes the most commonly seen signs & symptoms of spinal tumors.
- Back pain which is gradually spreading to nearby parts of the body
- Loss of sensation in legs & arms
- Walking difficulties
- Reduced sensations including increasing numbness to cold & heat
- Loss of bladder/bowel function
- Gradual muscle weakness in regions connected by affected (compressed) nerve
Back pain is the most common sign indicating a spinal tumor which is benign or malignant. Pain may gradually spread from back to the hips, legs, arms or shoulders & worsen with time despite appropriate treatment. Cancerous (malignant) spinal tumors are known to grow at a faster rate than noncancerous (benign) spinal tumors. It is advisable to see a doctor immediately in case any of these symptoms are felt.
Spinal tumors are generally divided into two classes according to the location of their origin. They are given as follows.
- Vertebral Tumors
- Spinal Cord Tumors
Spinal cord tumors are further divided into the following categories.
- Intra-Medullar Tumors – These tumors originate in cells within the spinal cord region, including ependymomas or astrocytomas.
- Extra-Medullar Tumors – These tumors grow within the supporting network of cells surrounding the spinal cord.
Although these do not originate in the spinal cord itself, this category of tumors may affect the normal functioning of spinal cord by causing spinal cord compression & other such complications. Examples of such tumors which can affect the operation of spinal cord include meningiomas, schwannomas & neurofibromas. In rare cases, tumors from different regions of the body can also spread (metastasize) & affect vertebrae of the spinal column. Tumors in the spinal region may lead to serious chronic pain, neurological complications & even paralysis in some cases.
At times, spinal tumors may get ignored, as they do not show any specific signs & symptoms. It is, therefore, important for doctors to know the complete medical history of patients in order to perform physical & neurological examinations. Doctors may advise some of the following diagnostic tests to confirm spinal tumors.
- Spinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan – This technique uses a combination of magnetic field & radio waves to produce detailed images of spine. This image accurately shows a 3 D view of spinal cord, nerves & all other surrounding structures. At times, a contrasting dye may also be used to obtain more advanced images of internal spinal structures.
- Computerized (CT) Scan – This technique uses advanced x-ray technology to produce detailed images of spine. This test may also be performed by injecting a contrasting dye into spine for highlighting the affected region & which makes it easier to identify abnormalities.
- Biopsy – During this test, doctors remove a small area of the tumor for obtaining a detailed analysis. This helps in deciding the best-suited treatment plan for patients.
When patients are suffering from symptoms that are common to spinal tumors such as unexplained persistent back pain, numbness or weakness in legs or changes in bladder or bowel function, they should immediately make an appointment with experienced orthopedist/neurologist. Patients can take help of the information given below for understanding what they can expect from the first appointment.
- Medical Information – Patients should make a list of medical information including medicines they are presently consuming. They should also note down signs & symptoms they are experiencing.
- Current Health Report – Patients should carry the current health report along with them during initial consultation.
- Family / Friend – Patients may take a friend or family member along with them. Sometimes, it can be tough to remember all of the necessary information provided by doctors during an appointment. Someone who accompanies the patient may remember something that the patient may have forgotten.
Patients may ask the following questions to spine surgeons in order to understand complete treatment procedure for spinal tumors.
- What is spinal tumor?
- Do I have a spinal tumor?
- What are the possible causes of my symptoms?
- What types of tests do I require to undergo?
- Do these tests need any special preparation?
- What do you suggest the next steps in determining diagnosis & treatment?
- What type of spinal tumor do I have?
- Am I a candidate for spinal tumor surgery?
- What are the risks & complications associated spinal tumor surgery?
- Am I a candidate for radiation therapy or chemotherapy?
- What are the possible risks & complications associated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy?
- What treatment approach is best suitable for me?
- What are the goals of suggested treatment plan?
- What is the long-term outlook for my present condition?
- Shall I head for a second opinion?
In addition to these questions, patients should not hesitate to ask any other doubts or queries they may be having.
There are several treatment options available for spinal tumors. Spine surgeons will take into consideration several factors which can help in determining the best & most effective plan of treatment. Vital factors in determining suitable plan are listed below.
- Overall health status
- Underlying health conditions if any
Main aim of spinal tumor treatment is to completely remove the tumor or as much as possible without damaging the surrounding spinal structures & nerves. Various effective spinal tumor treatment methods are elaborated below.
- Surgery – This is the most common treatment which is initially adopted to treat spinal tumors. Surgical technique is used when the doctors or neurosurgeons are definite that removal of spinal tumor will not affect any of the surrounding structures like nerves, spinal cord, etc. Microsurgical techniques have broadened the area of surgery for many spinal tumors that were inaccessible by traditional surgical methods. Powerful microscopes used in microsurgery help surgeons distinctly identify cancerous tissue & healthy tissue. Some advanced surgical techniques use high-frequency radio waves to disintegrate the tumor first & then by using minimally invasive surgical methods, the tumor is completely removed.
- Radiotherapy – This technique uses high-frequency radiation beams to destroy harmful cancerous cells. This treatment might not be used for removing tumor itself but it is most useful in eliminating the remains of tumors after the surgical procedure. It is highly effective in treating tumors that are not surgically removable as well as for disintegrating tumors. Radiotherapy may also be used for relieving symptoms of spinal tumors, such as severe pain.
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) – This is an advanced method for treating cancerous spinal tumors. It uses several beams of radiation to be focused from various angles on to tumors in spine. This is a more precise & accurate form of radiotherapy used for destroying harmful spinal tumors.
- Chemotherapy – This technique uses some specially-designed drugs that destroy cancerous spinal tumors or stop their growth. This is mostly performed in combination with radiotherapy for optimum results.
Patients are monitored during regular follow-up visits & re-evaluation by spine surgeons. This is extremely important because some spinal tumors, benign or malignant, may recur. Side effects from radiation can be observed including painful or reddened skin at the treatment site, vomiting, nausea, fatigue or loss of appetite. However, many of these side effects can be conveniently treated with drugs. Pain management specialists may provide assistance if traditional drugs like skin patch or pill fail to provide relief. Proper diet is essential to regain lost weight & strength after completion of treatment. Depending upon the extent of treatment & patient’s health status, a course of physical therapy may be prescribed for faster recovery. Patients can build flexibility, strength & endurance through exercise.
Most patients who undergo surgery for spinal tumors have no complications. However, any clinical treatment will have some degree of risks including the following
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia or other drugs
- Severe bleeding
- Heart attack
- Blood clots
- Herniated disc
- Nerve damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Outcomes of surgery & other treatments for spinal tumors are mostly overwhelming. Majority of patients notice the following changes after treatment of spinal tumors.
- Feel more physically fit
- Improvement in mood
- Improved functionality
- Relief without pain medications
- More productivity at work
- Faster recovery
Patients should learn to take care of themselves. Patients must take a healthy diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits & whole grains whenever possible. Patients should get enough sleep so that they feel rested. For reducing stress, patients should take out time for relaxing activities like listening to music & exercising.
Medical Tourism for Best Treatment of Spinal Tumors
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Affordable Treatments for Spinal Tumors with Travcure Medical Tourism
Travcure Medical Tourism is a globally reputed medical tourism service provider. Associated with the best orthopedic surgeons & neuro-surgeons in countries like Turkey, Germany, United Arab Emirates, India, & South Korea, they aim to deliver the most beneficial results to international patients for treatment of spinal tumors without any waiting period. Travcure is extensively connected to a huge healthcare network of internationally accredited hospitals & provisions so as to ensure that every patient from abroad gets the most advanced treatments for a variety of procedures including for spinal tumors. In addition to this, Travcure also provides recuperation packages to international patients for renewing both body & mind following treatments for spinal tumors.
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