Any tumor or growth on the spine whether cancerous or not, can press upon the nerves, causing pain, neurological defects and sometimes paralysis. Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in the legs, difficulty in walking, sometimes leading to falls and loss of bowel or bladder function are some other symptoms of such tumors.
They are classified according to their location, as follows:
Depending on the type of tumor, where it’s located, and the patient’s medical condition, treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgical removal of the tumor. However, surgical removal is not always possible if the tumor is located in an area of the spine that is difficult to reach.
Sometimes, embolization is necessary as in the cases of aneurismal bone cysts, kidney cancer and multiple myeloma. This is a procedure that limits blood flow to the tumor. Other times, a combination of treatments is used to ensure that cancer does not spread to other areas of the body. Keep in mind, there is no evidence to show that any of these therapies improve the prognosis or change survival rates.
Whether benign or malignant, a spinal tumor is a very serious medical condition. However, if diagnosed early, patients with spinal tumors have a better chance of a full recovery. Patients who are experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this article should seek medical help right away.
If small tumors aren’t growing or pressing on surrounding tissues, monitoring is recommended with periodic CT or MRI scans.
Surgery is often the best option as most spinal tumors resist radiation and chemotherapy. If the spinal tumor are too large, treatment aims to avoid tumor growth that will inevitably press on spinal nerves and lead to paralysis. Usually spinal surgeons don’t make treatment decision alone. They work as a multidisciplinary team together with Medical and Radiation oncologists, Urologists etc.
After the surgery, the patient is shifted to a recovery room, and then into an intensive care unit (ICU) or a standard hospital room. The medical team will observe the patient overnight. Patient who had surgery for an intradural tumor are recommended to follow bed rest for a day or two. This is required to help patients heal from the opening of the dura region during the surgery. In case of a surgery for an extradural tumor, the patient does not require a period of bed rest. The surgical team then focuses on helping the patient to get up and walk around.
Initially, the patient is given intravenous pain medication and gradually shifted to oral pain medication. An occupational or physical therapist will guide the patient to perform gentle movement or exercises for rehabilitation. The patient is normally discharged from the hospitals once they are able to eat, walk and use the restroom by themselves. This typically takes three to five days post surgery. The doctor will give a full set of instructions and precautions the patient needs to take at home for a healthy recovery.
The recovery time after the surgery for an intradural tumors can take three to four weeks, to overcome the effects of surgery. However, a complete recovery comprising healing and rehabilitation therapies to recover from the neurological complications caused by the tumor, may take a year, or more in some severe cases. People with metastatic tumors who require extensive spinal stabilization procedure may need a recovery period of 3 to 6 months.
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