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What Are the Types of Spinal Cord Tumors?


What Are the Types of Spinal Cord Tumors?

Your spinal cord is a tube-shaped space that runs from the base of your brain to the bottom of your spine. It houses nerves that send messages between your brain and body.


Tumors can grow along the spinal cord, as in other parts of your body, such as the lungs or liver.


A tumor forms in the spinal cord when cells grow too quickly. They can hurt you because they can compress and damage the spinal cord.


They can cause symptoms such as weakness, numbness, and even paralysis on both sides of the body.


Tumor Basics

You may hear your doctor talk about "grades" of tumors. The lower its grade, the slower it grows. Grade 1 and 2 tumors grow more slowly than grade 3 and 4.


If you hear your doctor or nurse talk about a "malignant" tumor, it means it's cancer. It is not a "benign" tumor. The type of treatment you get depends on this important difference, among many other things.


Here are some types of tumors and brief information about each:


Astrocytomas

These grow in star-shaped cells called astrocytes in the brain and spinal cord. They belong to a group of tumors called gliomas. All gliomas grow from "glial cells" that support and protect your nerve fibers.


Some astrocytomas grow very slowly. Others grow faster.


When the tumor presses on the nerves of the spine, it can cause symptoms such as weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty walking or problems controlling when you go to the toilet.


What symptoms you have depends on where the tumor is and how large it has grown.


Ependymomas

These are tumors that may have fluid-filled growths in them. They are also a type of glioma. They grow in the middle of the spinal cord.


Ependymomas themselves come in several different types. Some grow in the brain. Others are in the spinal cord. Myxopapillary ependymoma is a rare type that grows in the lower part of the spinal cord.


The symptoms you have depend on the size of the tumor and its location. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, and difficulty controlling when you go to the toilet.


This type of tumor usually grows slowly. It rarely spreads to other organs. Doctors treat them with surgery followed by radiation.


Hemangioblastomas

This rare type of tumor starts in the outer wall of the blood vessels in your brain and spinal cord. It's not usually cancerous, but if it grows and presses on your spinal cord, it can cause symptoms such as weakness in your legs and problems with balance.


Hemangioblastomas are more common in people with "von Hippel-Lindau syndrome." VHL is an inherited disease that causes tumors and cysts to form in many different parts of the body.


Meningiomas

About 25% of spinal cord tumors are of this type. They are more common in women than men and usually start in middle age or later.


They grow in the meninges, the three membranes that cover and protect your brain and spinal cord. They are not usually cancerous, but those that can spread.


These tumors usually form in the spine in the middle of your back. When they press on nerves, they can cause symptoms such as pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms or legs. You may have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels. These symptoms may get worse as the tumor grows.


neurofibromas

This is a type of tumor that grows in the nerves of the spine. It is more common in people with a condition called neurofibromatosis type 1 or NF1.


NF1 causes clusters of tumors to grow around the body, usually on or just below the skin. These tumors are not cancerous.


Neurofibromas grow slowly. Most people who have them on their spine do not have any symptoms. Rarely, there may be back pain, weakness, or numbness in an arm or leg with this type of tumor.


Schwannomas

They grow from Schwann cells. These cells form the myelin sheath that protects your nerve cells. You may be more likely to have this type of tumor if any of your family members have had spinal cancer or if you have NF2, another type of neurofibromatosis.


Schwannomas are almost never cancerous. They can still grow and put pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure can damage nerves and cause pain, numbness, and weakness in your legs.

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