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Although rare, several types of tumour can start in the spinal cord. The most common types are:

  • Astrocytomas
  • Ependymomas
  • Meningiomas
  • Nerve-sheath tumours, such as schwannomas.
  • Sarcoma

These tumours usually cause problems by pressing on the nerves that run from the brain down the middle of the back to different areas of the body.

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Symptoms of spinal cord tumours depend on their position.

Symptoms caused by a tumour pressing on nerves in the spine and can present as: -

  • Back or neck pain, and numbness
  • Tingling or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Clumsiness and difficulty walking.
  • Lower spine tumours may cause incontinence (loss of bladder and bowel control)

Your age, general health, type, size and position of a tumour will determine treatment. Options may include: -

  • Surgery to remove a tumour
  • Radiotherapy if surgery is not possible or as part of your post-surgery treatment
    Anti-cancer drugs such as chemotherapy or targeted (biological) therapies
  • Steroids may be used to help control any symptoms

Your doctors need to find out as much as possible about the type, position and size of a tumour, so they can plan the best treatment for you. You may have a number of different tests.

  • MRI scan - This scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. You may be given an injection of dye, into a vein, to improve the images from the scan. This test is painless and will take about 30 minutes.
  • CT scan - A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the inside of the body. You may be given either a drink or injection of dye. This is to make certain areas of the body show up more clearly. This scan takes about 30 minutes and is painless.

Inherited conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau syndrome and neurofibromatosis have been linked to a small number of cases. But the general cause of these tumours is unknown and research is being done to help our understanding.

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