Metastatic Spinal Tumor: Symptoms, Treatment


A metastatic spinal tumor is a malignant tumor that spreads to other parts of the body. Sometimes, a metastatic tumor is called a secondary tumor while the original tumor is called the primary tumor. When the original tumor in another place in the body spreads to the spinal area, a metastatic spinal tumor occurs. Most frequently, a metastatic spinal tumor happens in the bones of the spine or vertebra in the upper and middle back. And sometimes, there may be not only one vertebra involved.

A metastatic spinal tumor that is located near the spinal cord and neck can cause serious neurological problems because the cancer cells can have effects on their surrounding nerves. Under such circumstance, people with a metastatic spinal tumor may not only experience pain but also feel radiating pain from the back to other parts of the body such as the legs and feet. According to the current studies, the most common types of cancers that spread to the spinal area are breast cancer, lung cancer, renal cancer, and prostate cancer.

In the United States, there are around 10,000 people developing primary or metastatic spinal cord tumors every year. Overall, metastatic spinal tumors are not very common. According to the statistics, 30% to 70% of patients with cancer may experience the condition. Also, about 5% to 10 % of them will develop spinal cord compression.


When the cancer cells of the primary tumor break off and travel through the bloodstream, some of these cells will survive and find new locations. If these cells grow in the bones of the spine, it develops to be metastatic spinal tumors.

In general, lung, liver and spinal bones are the most common locations for metastasis.


Every individual’s symptoms of a metastatic spinal tumor may vary because of the difference in size and location of the tumor. In some cases, people with the disease may experience no symptoms at all.

Typically, people with a metastatic spinal tumor are most likely to feel pain in the back. Other common signs and symptoms of the condition may include the following:

  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Balance problems
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Paralysis
  • Vertebral compression fracture
  • Deformity
  • Pain in the legs, arms and other parts of the body
  • Aching pain in the bones
  • Pins-and-needles feelings in the arms and legs

Usually, people with the condition tend to experience more severe pain during nighttime hours and in the morning. If you have the above-described symptoms, you should go to the hospital and get a definite diagnosis.


To get an accurate diagnosis of metastatic spinal tumors, imaging tests play an important role. In order to understand what’s going on, the doctor may order the following tests:

  • X-rays. This test uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of the bones in the spine so that the doctor can check the overall health of the spinal area.
  • CT and MRI scans. CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to produce images of the body. This test can give out results that are much more detailed than the X-rays test. CT scan can produce detailed images of bones and tissues in the spine. Combined with the results of the MRI scan, the doctor will be able to see the location, size, and density of the tumor.
  • A biopsy. In some cases, a biopsy may also be necessary. The doctor may get the sample of the spinal tumor either with a hollow needle or during a surgical procedure. With the results of the lab, the type of the cancer can be defined.


According to specific situations, the doctor usually chooses different treatment methods. The location, size, stages and other risk factors should all be taken into consideration before the treatment process starts. There are several treatment options available.

Pain management

Controlling pain is one of the primary goals of the treatment plan. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be taken by the patient with a metastatic spinal tumor in order to ease the pain. Also, steroids may be helpful in decreasing the swelling around the tumor.


If the tumor causes compression on the spinal cord and nerves, surgery may be recommended by the doctor. According to different situations, the doctor may perform different surgical procedures, such as:

  • Decompression surgery. This surgery is done to lift the pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. By surgically removing a certain amount of tumor cells, the space around the spinal cord and nerves can be increased.
  • Spinal Stabilization. If there appear severe balance problems, spinal stabilization may be needed. In the procedure, plates, screws, and rods may be used to help stabilize and support the vertebrae.

Radiation Therapy & Chemotherapy

These two therapies can be part of the treatment plan either before the surgery or after the surgery. The doctor will make a decision in line with your situations.


After the surgery and therapy treatment, the patients need to slowly return to normal day-to-day activities. Professional physical therapist and occupational therapist can design rehabilitation programs for the patients according to their actual needs.

It is worth mentioning that maintaining a positive mood and keeps regular check-ups in the hospital are very important as well. This way, the medical team can continue to monitor the situation and take timely responses if there are other complications.

Keywords: metastatic spinal tumor.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.