The spinal cord, which keeps your body erect, is the backbone for many reasons. It regulates every moment of your body and serves as a communication mechanism that carries nerve signals to the brain back and forth. Without these nerve signals, you wouldn’t feel a sensation of any kind and can become immobile.
This long pipe-like bone structure is divided into 5 main parts – Sacral Cord, Lumbar cord, Thoracic cord, Cervical cord, and Coccygeal. A spinal tumour is one of the common cancers after breast and prostate cancers and is often metastatic.
The growth of a tumour that begins within the spinal cord or dura is known as Spinal Cord or Intradural Tumour. If a tumour affects the bones of the spine or vertebrae, it is defined as a vertebral tumour. Spinal cord tumours are classified broadly into, Intramedullary tumours and Extramedullary tumours. These are further divided into Astrocytoma, Chordoma, Ependymoma, Glioma, Meningioma, Neurofibroma, and Schwannoma.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumour:
One of the primary signs of Spinal Cord Tumour is severe back pain that radiates to other parts of the body, and it becomes intense as the tumour grows in size, affecting nerves, blood vessels, and bones.
· Pain at the site of the tumour
· Less tolerance to heat and cold sensations
· Difficulty walking. Improper gait with falls
· Intense back pain at night
· Irregular or complete loss of bowel and bladder function
· Loss of sensation in the extremities in arms, legs, and feet
· Muscle weakness in the entire body, abnormal reflexes
What Causes Spinal Cord Tumour?
Primary Spinal Tumour:
Like in the case of other cancers, it is tough to define one single cause behind a spinal cord tumour. Genetic mutations are either inherited or developed over a period of time. Environmental factors like exposure to certain chemicals too play a role in getting affected by Spinal Cord Tumour.
However, various studies suggest that spinal cord tumours are linked to specific inherited syndromes.
Secondary Spinal Cord Tumour:
Secondary or metastatic Spinal tumours are caused due to cancer cells breaking away from the primary tumour and growing on the spine. This bony structure with significant blood supply, located near lymphatic and venous drainage system, is prone to metastasis, leading to Secondary Spinal Cord Tumour.
Risk Factors Associated With Spinal Cord Tumour:
Primary spinal cord tumours are often linked to inherited syndromes. In certain instances, family health history unfortunately forms a chief reason, especially in the children.
A genetic disorder, often referred to as von Recklinghausen disease, is the lead risk factor in schwannomas, meningiomas, and certain gliomas besides benign tumours. It is caused due to changes in the NF1 gene, and in the majority of cases, these genetic factors are inherited from a parent. However, it is also seen in patients with no family history of spinal cord tumour.
Though a rare condition compared to NF1, Neurofibromatosis NF2 is associated with spinal cord ependymomas and is a major risk factor in about half of the cases. It can also occur in children without a family history, even before birth.
Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome:
The changes in the VHL gene cause Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome, leading to cancerous growth in different organs, including the spinal cord, brain, inner ear, kidney, pancreas, and adrenal gland besides hemangioblastomas or benign blood vessel tumours. In a majority of cases, these genetic mutations are inherited.
· Getting exposed to radiation is one of the main causative factors
· Weak immunity can up the risk of lymphomas in the spinal cord. Babies born with congenital problems, and organ transplant patients are prone to this cancer
· Excessive exposure to vinyl chloride, petroleum products, carcinogenic chemicals, and chronic infections due to certain viruses suggest a link to the greater risk of developing spinal cord tumours
Spinal cord tumours are diagnosed by running a battery of tests, including blood work and imaging tests like CT-Scan, MRIs, PET-CT, and biopsy.
Surgical intervention is often the first choice for removing the tumour without causing any damage to the spinal cord or nerves. The patient may have to undergo Radiation therapy, Chemotherapy, and other treatments for faster recovery.
if you have any of these symptoms consult an oncologist and get the right treatment at the right time.
Dr. Pinaki Mahato, Medical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre – Vadodara.