A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth in or around your spinal column.

Spinal tumors can be divided based on:

  • the type of tissue they grow in
  • whether they’re malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous)

Pain is typically the earliest and most common symptom of a spinal tumor — if you have symptoms at all. You may also experience symptoms like muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness if the tumor pushes on your nerve root.

Learn about the different types of spinal tumors as well as symptoms, diagnostic methods, and potential treatments.

Types of spinal tumors that are usually benign include:

  • Spinal hemangioma. Hemangiomas develop from abnormal blood vessels. Only about 0.9 to 1.2 percent of these tumors cause symptoms.
  • Eosinophilic granuloma. Eosinophilic granuloma is a rare bone tumor that tends to happen in children. This type of tumor can affect any bone, but it’s most common in your skull, jaw, long bones, spine, or ribs.
  • Osteoid osteoma. Osteoid osteoma is a type of bone tumor that most commonly develops in your long bones. They tend to be smaller than 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches) and don’t grow or spread.
  • Spinal osteoblastoma. A rare bone tumor that typically develops in your 20s or 30s. They typically develop on the posterior part of your vertebrae.
  • Spinal osteochondroma. Osteochondroma is the most common type of benign bone tumor. When they occur in your spine, they most often occur in your cervical spine just below your skull.
  • Spinal neurofibroma. Neurofibromas develop on your nerves and often don’t cause symptoms. When they develop around your spine, they often occur in the roots of your sensory nerves.
  • Aneurysmal bone cyst. Aneurysmal bone cysts are blood-filled tumors surrounded by a wall of bone that grows over time. They most commonly occur near your knee, pelvis, or spine.
  • Giant cell tumor. Giant cell tumors are noncancerous but aggressive and can destroy surrounding bone. They only about one in a million people each year.
  • Meningiomas. Meningiomas occur in the layers of tissue covering your brain and spinal cord. They tend to grow slowly and are usually noncancerous.
  • Nerve sheath tumors. Nerve sheath tumors tend to be benign and grow slowly. They develop in the protective layer wrapping around your nerves.

Most cancerous spinal tumors spread from other parts of your body. Cancerous tumors that start in your spinal cord are the rarest type of tumor that involve your spine.

Types of malignant spinal tumors include:

  • Metastases of organ cancers. Cancer that spreads from another part of your body is known as metastasized cancer. About 97 percent of tumors in the spinal column spread from internal organs.
  • Chordoma. Chordoma is a rare type of bone cancer that can occur anywhere in your spine. It’s most commonly found near your tailbone and affects about 1 in a million people each year.
  • Ewing’s sarcoma. Along with osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma is the most common type of spinal tumor in young people. It develops in bone or the soft tissue around your bone.
  • Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is one of the most common types of bone cancer but rarely develops in your spine. It typically develops near the end of long bones in children and teens while they’re still growing.
  • Multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that develops in white blood cells. It can cause tumors to form in many bones in your body.
  • Glioma. Glioma is a tumor that develops in the supportive cells around your nerves and can occur in your brain or spinal cord. Glioma can be divided into the following subcategories (depending on what cells are affected):
    • astrocytomas
    • ependymomas
    • oligodendrogliomas

It’s common for spinal tumors to cause no symptoms.

The most common symptom is pain. Pain caused by spinal tumors is often mistakenly attributed to a spinal injury. This kind of pain may:

  • gradually get worse over time
  • be sharp or burning
  • be most noticeable or severe at night
  • eventually be noticeable at rest

Tumors that compress your nerve roots can lead to symptoms like:

Less common symptoms include:

Diagnosing a spinal tumor can be a complex process. A doctor may perform a neurological test to test your movements and senses.

If your doctor finds potential signs of a spinal tumor, they’ll likely use imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis. Other tests that may help identify a spinal tumor include:

Malignant tumors require treatment. Some benign tumors, however, may only require active monitoring to make sure that they don’t grow too big, or cause pain or other disruptive symptoms.

Treatment commonly includes:

Medication used to ease symptoms include:

Types of surgery for spinal tumors include:

  • Posterolateral resection. Your spinal tumor is removed through an incision in the middle of your back.
  • En bloc resection. The tumor is removed in one piece. It’s often used for tumors located in the bones of your spine.
  • Metastatic spine tumor surgery. Two types of surgeries are commonly used to treat cancer that has spread from other parts of your body:
    • Spinal cord decompression. Relieves pressure on your spinal cord and creates enough space so you can receive high-dose radiation without risk to your spinal cord.
    • Spinal instrumentation. Screws and rods are attached to your spine to realign your bones.
  • Spinal angiography. Involves injecting a contrast dye and taking an X-ray to help identify blood vessels at high risk of bleeding during surgery.

Spinal tumors can be either benign or malignant. Malignant tumors should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor right away.

Even though benign tumors aren’t cancerous, they can grow big enough to push on other tissues or cause pain. It’s a good idea to discuss your options with a doctor to see if you can have it removed or treated before symptoms worsen.