Spinal tumours

Both malignant and benign spinal tumours are serious and need urgent attention.

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Find out more about spinal tumours and the three reasons why surgery is needed.
Spinal tumours - Dr Alex Koefman, spinal surgeon Brisbane

Neurosurgeon Brisbane

Dr Alex Koefman about spinal tumours

Spinal tumours key points

  • Spinal tumours are tumours that grow either inside or around the spine.
  • They may be malignant or benign.
  • Whether these tumours are cancerous or benign, they are always serious.
  • There are two types of spinal tumours: either they are metastatic tumours (a tumour that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the spine) or primary spine tumours (a tumour originating within the spine).
  • There are 3 reasons that surgery is needed to treat spinal tumours, which I explain below.

Spinal tumours Brisbane

What is it?

Spinal tumours are tumours that grow either inside or around the spine.

Tumours of the spine are quite rare. There are two main types we see.

  • Metastasis: This is a form of cancer that starts in another part of the body and migrates or spreads via the bloodstream to the spine. Metastatic tumours are the most common type of spinal tumours and are always malignant. The most common cancers that spread to the spine are blood cancers such as multiple myeloma, plasmacytoma and lymphoma. The other most common cancers are prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Lung cancer also spreads to the spine.
  • Primary spine tumour: The other type of spinal tumour is a primary spine tumour. Primary tumours originate within the spine itself. This is unlike metastases which arise from another body part first (e.g. the lungs, breast, or blood cells). Also, most primary spine tumours are benign, though not all.

Symptoms of a spinal tumour

What are the symptoms?

Cancer in the spine causes symptoms due to a rapidly growing mass of awful malignant cells.

Symptoms of a cancerous spinal tumour:

  • Increasing pain in the affected part of the spine.
  • Weakness in the arms or legs if the nerves or spinal cord are compressed by the rapidly growing tumour.
  • Cancer can also erode the bones of the spine and cause them to break. This is called a pathological fracture.

Benign tumours also cause serious symptoms. Even though they only grow slowly, unlike fast growing cancer, they cause symptoms by slowly squashing the nerves and the spinal cord. The most common symptoms are:

  • Weakness in the arms or legs.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control.

It is a very serious condition.

It doesn’t matter if it is cancer or benign, spinal tumours are serious. Obviously cancer is more serious but benign tumours can cause serious problems. I always organise urgent surgery for these tumours to prevent the patient from getting worse and to give them the best chance of regaining any lost neurological function. 

Dr Alex Koefman | Brain and Spinal Surgeon Brisbane
Dr Alex Koefman

Spinal surgeon Brisbane


Causes of a spinal tumour

What causes it? Did I do something to cause it? Is it genetic, will it affect my family?

The most common cancers that spread to the spine are prostate in men and breast cancer in women. There are no genetic associations with prostate cancer, but they certainly are in breast cancer. 

The BRCA gene mutation is a well-recognised risk factor that significantly increases the risk of breast cancer and therefore a spread to involve the spine.

There are 4 types of lung cancer, and at least one of these types is caused by smoking.

There are only two genetic conditions that increase your risk of spinal tumours, and that is NF1 (neurofibromatosis type 1) and NF2 (neurofibromatosis type 2) . These two conditions are exceptionally rare and it is very unlikely that you have either.

Spinal tumours treatment Brisbane

How is it treated?

The more benign tumours usually require surgery and the cancerous ones a combination of surgery, chemotherapy (drug treatment) and radiotherapy (x-ray treatment). 

Spinal tumour surgery in Brisbane

Do I need surgery?

There are 3 reasons that surgery is needed to treat spinal tumours, and this is for both cancerous metastasis and more benign primary tumours. 

  1. To get a diagnosis: Often it is impossible to tell what type of tumour it is just by looking at the scan. To be certain a part of the tumour has to be collected and sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope. After this, it is almost always 100% clear what type of tumour it is. So the first reason I might need to operate is simply to get some of the tumour to send off.
  2. To take pressure off the spinal cord or nerves: This is very important. If the spinal cord is being compressed then surgery is often required as an emergency to take the pressure off before the spinal cord is injured permanently.
  3. To strengthen the spine if the bones are weak or have collapsed: This is achieved by putting in rods and screws to hold everything together.

Spinal tumour neurosurgeon in Brisbane

What should I do now?

If you have a spinal tumour it is critical you get a professional opinion immediately. Usually your family doctor will have arranged this urgently if such a tumour is found. If you want me to assess you then contact my team urgently. 

Ready to make an appointment?

Alex consults at Queensland Neurosurgery & Spine Surgery (QNS).
Dr Alex Koefman

Ramsay Specialist Centre
Suite 325
Newdegate St
Greenslopes QLD 4120


(07) 3397 4185

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