What is a Spinal Tumor?

What is a Spinal Tumor?

An x-ray image of spine metastasis.

Spinal tumors include benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) growths that can develop within the vertebrae (bones of the spine), next to the spinal column, or within the vertebral canal or the spinal cord. They may originate from the spine (primary tumors) or spread from another body part in people with cancer (secondary or metastatic tumors).

Spinal tumors are rare , and benign (noncancerous) tumors are more common than malignant spinal tumors.

Types of Spinal Tumors


Spinal tumors are usually classified according to their origin location:

  • Extradural spinal tumors arise from the vertebral column, or extradural area (outside the dura mater). These often grow from the spine’s bones and are known as vertebral column tumors. The most common are metastatic spinal cord tumors — meaning cancer has spread there from elsewhere in the body — but they may also be primary vertebral column tumors, meaning they originated in the vertebrae. Primary spinal tumors are the rarest. 
  • Intradural extramedullary spinal tumors arise inside the dura mater, but outside of the spinal cord itself. These are usually nerve sheath tumors or meningiomas. Nerve sheath tumors arise from the nerve roots as they exit the spine, and meningiomas arise from the meninges (the tissues lining the spinal cord, usually inside the dura mater).
  • Intramedullary spinal cord tumors develop within the tissue of the spinal cord. Examples include astrocytomas, ependymomas, and hemangioblastomas.

Different types of spinal tumors often behave differently and require their own kinds of treatments.
Types of spinal tumors include:

  • Astrocytoma
  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Chordoma
  • Dermoid and epidermoid tumors
  • Dumbbell tumor
  • Ependymoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Giant cell tumor
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Metastatic tumors, which spread to the spine from cancers elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs, prostate, breast, colon, and kidney
  • Meningiomas
  • Nerve sheath tumor
  • Neurofibromas
  • Osteoblastoma
  • Osteogenic sarcoma
  • Osteoid osteoma
  • Plasmacytoma
  • Schwannomas
  • Schwannomatosis
  • Solitary bone plasmacytoma
  • Spinal hemangioma

Signs & Symptoms of Spinal Tumors


The symptoms of spinal tumors can depend on the tumor’s location, size, and type. As a tumor grows, the most common symptoms are discomfort and pain.

Spinal tumor pain usually persists even if you rest, and it may feel worse at night, interfering with your sleep. Pain may not respond to physical therapies and pain medication.

Symptoms of spinal tumors may include:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy, which causes pain that runs along the sciatic nerve from the buttocks into the back of the leg
  • Radicular pain, or a sharp, shooting pain that radiates from the spine to your arms, hips, legs, or feet
  • Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the chest, arms, or legs
  • Muscle spasms or twitching
  • Muscle weakness, particularly if the tumor is in the cervical spine or lumbar spine and interfering with the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function
  • Inability to walk

Symptoms of spinal tumors may resemble those of other conditions. It’s important to see a spine specialist who can diagnose the cause of your discomfort and recommend treatment options.

Causes of Spinal Tumors


There is no known direct cause of spinal tumors. Possible causes may differ depending on the type of tumor:

  • Primary tumors that originate in the spine
  • Secondary (metastatic) tumors, in which cancer spreads from another area of the body

Possible causes of primary tumors may include:

  • Exposure to cancer-causing substances or chemicals
  • Weakened immune system. Spinal cord lymphomas are more common in people who are immunocompromised
  • Genetic defects. Defective genes may play a role, whether inherited or developed over time

Secondary spinal tumors are caused by cancer cells spreading from another part of the body, often through the blood or lymphatic system.

Types of cancer that commonly metastasize to the spine or spinal cord include:

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a spinal tumor. However, some factors may increase your risk, including certain lifestyle factors that elevate your risk of cancer in general.

Possible risk factors for spinal tumors include:

  • Prior history of cancer, especially cancer types that are more likely to spread to the spine — breast, lung, prostate, and multiple myeloma
  • Genetics
  • Heredity disorders, particularly Von Hippel-Lindau disease and Neurofibromatosis (NF2)
  • Compromised immune system
  • Exposure to radiation, especially during childhood



As spinal tumors grow, pain and discomfort can intensify. Both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) spinal cord tumors can cause fatalities.

Complications from spinal tumors can include:

  • Neurological issues
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Loss of movement
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Permanent paralysis
  • Death
Get Care

Find Treatment for Spinal Tumors at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian

Doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian are experts in recognizing and evaluating the signs of spinal tumors. If you are experiencing any symptoms, including worsening weakness or numbness, it’s crucial to seek treatment right away.

For relief from pain and discomfort caused by a spinal tumor, make an appointment with NewYork-Presbyterian today.