Spine tumors in children can occur outside of the spinal sac (extradural), inside the spinal sac but outside of the spinal cord (intradural) and/or inside the spinal cord (intradural intramedullary). They can occur anywhere along the spine and spinal cord: in the neck (cervical), mid-back (thoracic) and/or the lower back (lumbosacral). Spinal tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Signs and symptoms
Spinal tumors can cause the following symptoms:
- Back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- Loss of function (weakness or paralysis) in the arms and/or legs
- Bowel and bladder dysfunction due to involvement of or pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves
- Spinal deformities such as scoliosis
Other conditions can cause the same symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Only a doctor experienced in recognizing the exact combination of symptoms that indicate a spinal tumor can make a firm diagnosis.
A customized treatment plan is put together for your child based on:
- The type of spine tumor
- The tumor’s location and size
- Your child’s age and general health
- Your child’s tolerance for treatment
- You and your child’s preferences
Treatment for a spine tumor may include one or a combination of the following options:
High-dose chemotherapy. During this procedure, very high doses of chemotherapy (medicines designed to treat cancer) are given to the patient usually by intravenous (IV) line.
Radiation. This treatment uses high-energy particles or waves to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
Surgical removal of tumor. This procedure is recommended to improve symptoms, prevent further loss of function and make a diagnosis. Surgery can usually cure benign tumors. Surgery cannot cure malignant tumors, but can help preserve function. The surgery is typically done by a pediatric neurosurgeon. The surgical approach for a spinal tumor is usually by way of an incision made on the back of your child’s neck or on the back. The exact location of the incision depends on the location of the tumor. After making the incision, bone and ligament are removed to gain access to the spinal canal, which contains the spinal cord and spinal nerves. These are covered by a layer of dura. In children, the bone is typically cut on both sides, keeping the ligament between the bones intact, lifted up and out of the way during the surgery and then put back at the end of the operation with small titanium plates and screws so that the bone can fuse back into place and protect the spinal cord. The tumor removal may be assisted by use of a high-powered microscope, which helps to make the surgery as safe as possible and enables the neurosurgeon to remove as much of the tumor as is safely possible. Additional nerve monitoring equipment may be used for the same purpose. Sometimes, a tumor cannot be fully removed because it may cause more harm and loss of function to remove the entire tumor than to leave a small amount behind. The tumor that has been removed is sent to a pathologist, who will examine the tumor and make a diagnosis.