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Tumors and cancers of the spinal cord


Tumors of the spinal cord are rare and sometimes complicated to address from a medical point of view. Yet, they constitute a significant proportion of tumors affecting the central nervous system. There are intramedullary tumors, located directly on the spinal cord, mainly represented by gliomas (astrocytomas and ependymomas), and intradural extramedullary tumors, mainly schwannomas (formerly called acoustic neuromas) and meningiomas, which sit on the membranes that wrap the spinal cord and compress the latter. There are also tumors outside the dura mater, called extradural tumors, which are represented mainly by metastases. Of these tumors, some are benign schwannomas and meningiomas, but others are potentially malignant gliomas, or malignant metastasis, due to the migration of cancer cells from another body.


Whether benign or malignant, extramedullary tumors are responsible for symptoms when exercising compression on the spinal cord. In general, tumors of the spinal cord generate symptoms secondary to the compression and depending on the severity, its affect on the bone:
  • pain in the spine opposite the affected area;
  • a loss of sensitivity as well as traction
  • loss of motor skills, muscle rigidity and loss of sensitivity of all affected nerves below the level of the area of the lesion;
  • sometimes, disorders of continence with urinary leakage or difficulty in retaining stool.

For example, a tumor near the second lumbar vertebra will cause pain in the lower back, at the front of the thigh with loss of sensation and motor skills, but also rigidity and reduced motility and sensitivity in the legs.


Faced with the types of neurological symptoms mentioned above, a consultation is necessary, and after a clinical neurological examination to identify the height of the problem, radiographs of the spine and MRI of the spinal cord will be performed. They will allow the doctor to see if the tumor is located on the spinal cord, the dura, or outside the dura mater, and thus to predict its nature. In the case of cancer, staging looking for other sites of cancer cells in the body is necessary.


The typical treatment of cancers of the spinal cord is of a surgical order. It consists of a complete removal of the tumor. If the cancer is metastasized, the other sites must be treated specially.

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