Spinal cord tumors are rare but can cause recurrent and unexplainable pain in the abdomen. Abdominal pain can be an initial symptom in such tumors and can go undiagnosed as a gastric disorder. Lack of neurological symptoms makes it difficult to diagnose the cause of the pain and the tumor may go unnoticed. Abdominal pain generally arises due to inflammation and irritation of the nerve root in the thoracic spine due to compression from the enlarging tumor mass. This is commonly followed by neurological impairments as the disease progresses.

A spinal cord tumor, also known as intradural tumor, is an abnormal growth that develops within the spinal canal or within the bones of the spine. Spinal tumors can originate in any region of the spine; the neck (cervical), upper back (thoracic) or the lower back (lumbar). Depending on their location, the main types of spinal cord tumor are:

  • Intramedullary Tumors: These originate in the nerve cells that make up the spinal cord, for example, the gliomas, astrocytomas or ependymomas.
  • Extramedullary Tumors: These begin in the soft tissues or muscles that support the spine, or the nerve roots that originate from the spine. Some examples are meningiomas, neurofibromas, nerve sheath tumors etc.
  • Vertebral Tumor: These occur in the bones of the vertebral column or the spine and usually occur in younger adults. An example of vertebral column is Osteosarcoma.

Apart from the above categorization, Spinal Cancers can be divided into primary or secondary types. Primary spinal cancers develop within the spinal column, while Secondary spinal cancer, or metastatic cancer, spreads to the vertebral column from another part of the body such as kidney, breast or the prostate.

Some common symptoms of spinal cord tumor are:

  • Back pain, spreading to other parts of the body
  • Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in the limbs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Pain at the site of the tumor due to the growth of the tumor
  • Difficulty in walking

A spinal cancer is diagnosed by performing certain tests and scans, such as the Spinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan, or a Biopsy, which involves extracting a small tissue sample for analysis.

The aim of a spinal tumor treatment is to remove the tumor completely, but it also depends on other factors such as the age and overall health condition of the patient and the type of tumor. Some treatments for spinal tumor are:

  • Surgery: This is the standard treatment to remove the tumor. If the tumor cannot be removed completely, it may be followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy: The doctor prescribes some drugs which can be taken orally or by injection to kill the cancer or eliminate the pain.
  • Monitoring: If the tumor isn’t progressing or affecting the surrounding tissues, mindful monitoring may be the best course of action.