When your back pain could be something more

When your back pain could be something more

Have back pain? Often, it’s a result of a muscle strain or a bulging or ruptured disk caused by heavy lifting or an accident.

But could your back pain be a sign of something more serious like a spine tumor? Back pain is the second most common reason to see a doctor next to the common cold.

“Overall, the percentage of spine tumors originating in the spine that are benign (noncancerous) is less than 10%,” says Dr. Patrick Sugrue, a neurosurgeon at Advocate Health Care. “However, most spine tumors are metastatic, which means they have spread to the spine from cancer in a different part of the body like kidneys, lungs, breasts, prostate or melanoma.”

One of the first signs of a spine tumor is back pain primarily in the evening and early morning caused by bone weakness and compression of the spinal cord. Other signs can include difficulty walking or falling, heating pain or difficulty with fine motor control, bladder incontinence, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs and neurological issues such as seizures, difficulty reading or writing and muscle weakness.

Spinal tumors have different sub-types, depending on the location of the growth:

  • Extradural spinal tumors account for 55% of all spine tumors, and the majority are metastatic.
    • Primary bone tumors are rare.
  • Intradural Extramedullary spinal tumors make up 40% of cancers and occur outside the spinal cord.
  • Intramedullary spinal tumors account for 5% and occur inside the dura and not the spinal cord itself

“The grade of the tumor, how quickly it’s likely to grow, is one of the key factors in determining the prognosis and what type of treatment will be provided to the patient,” says Dr. Sugrue. “Frequently, surgery alone is not a cure for the tumor and a combination of treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are necessary for the best outcome. At the very least, it requires monitoring and imaging over time.”

While there are currently no screening programs for spine tumors, a variety of diagnostic tests including a blood test, biopsy and advanced imaging technologies such as an advanced MRI, CT, CAT or PET scan help detect the cancer and identify the size and location.

“Like any form of cancer, it’s much easier to treat with early detection,” says Dr. Sugrue. “I strongly urge patients to get checked out when symptoms arise and not to ignore them.”

Do you have back or neck pain? Take a free, quick online assessment to learn more by clicking here.

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About the Author

Neda Veselinovic
Neda Veselinovic

Neda Veselinovic, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She has more than five years of public relations experience and most recently worked with clients in the travel and hospitality industries. She prefers to spend her time with a cup of coffee and a good read and always welcomes book recommendations.