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Types of Spinal Tumours

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 16 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Benign; Malignant; Cervical; Thoracic;

A tumour is a growth or a swelling caused by the abnormal multiplication and development of cells. A tumour can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Spinal tumours can involve any part of the spine and the associated structures from the neck down to the sacrum.Tumours that originate in the first instance in the spine or spinal regions are said to be primary tumours. If the original tumour began in another part of the anatomy and has spread to the spinal area, it is referred to as a secondary or a metastases.


There are around 750 new cases of spinal tumours being diagnosed every year in the United Kingdom.Unless there is a history of an abnormal familial gene, possibly indicating a genetic link, spinal tumours are not thought of as a hereditary disease.

In the male population, spinal tumours are usually spread from the prostate or lung primary source; in women from the breast or lung.

Locations of Spinal Tumours

  • Extradural: the tumour grows between the dura mater (the membrane surrounding the spinal cord) and the bony canal.
  • Intradural: the tumour grows inside the dura mater, within the spinal canal but not within the nerves.
  • Intramedullary: the tumour grows inside the spinal canal and within the nerves. Most common in the cervical spine.

Benign Spinal Tumours

There are five common spinal tumours that are benign, these are;
  • Aneurysmal Bone Cyst (ABC). Not really a tumour but a cyst that behaves and is treated in the same way as a tumour would be. An ABC occurs mainly in the posterior region of the lumbar spine. There is a higher incidence in women, usually found in the late teens and twenties.

  • Giant Cell Tumour (GCT). This is a very aggressive form of tumour and is found in the sacrum and margins of the spinal cord. It is most common in women between the ages of 30 and 40.

  • Hemanginoma. This benign tumour is most frequently seen in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine in women between the ages of 30 and 40. It is not usually problematic for the sufferers.

  • Osteoid Osteoma. This tumour is most common in men between 20 and 40 years of age. Most often found in the posterior region of the lumbar spine and occasionally can result in spinal deformities.

  • Osteoblastoma. Similar to an osteoid osteoma, but is a larger and more aggressive form. Fortunately these types of tumour are quite rare. Found in the posterior lumbar spine, it is most common in men between the ages of 20 and 30.

Malignant Tumours

These are the most common malignant tumours;
  • Chordoma. This is a rare and slow growing tumour, found in the sacral area and most often seen in men aged 50-70. Surgical intervention is almost certainly essential, though being found so close to the nerve roots; a highly skilled hand is required.

  • Osteosarcoma. Fortunately this tumour is very rare as it is highly malignant and usually spreads to other parts of the body. Most common in young males.

  • Chondrosarcoma. A chondronsarcoma has a slow growth rate, is found in the thoracic, lumbar and sacral areas, usually in males over the age of 40. Due to their complicated location, they cannot always be surgically treated, and does not respond very well to chemotherapy or radiation.

  • Plasmacytoma. These are often called ‘round cell tumours’ as they can appear as either an individually growing mass, or as a collection of smaller masses. Most prevalent in men over the age of 50, they are found in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine.

  • Multiple Myeloma. This is the most common round cell tumour, found in patients between 50 and 80 years of age and responds well to both chemotherapy and radiation.

  • Lymphoma. A round cell type of tumour, often seen in multiple areas of the spine, it is frequently found in patients between the ages of 40 and 60.

  • Ewing’s Sarcoma. This is a highly malignant round cell tumour, with origins in the sacral area and is found in children. It has a low survival rate, especially after 5 years.

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