Recognizing Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor

Recognizing Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor

Tumors that begin in the spinal cord are rare compared to brain tumors, which account for 85-90% of all primary central nervous system tumors. Spine tumors have a good chance of being benign (noncancerous). But within the nerve-rich environment of the spine, a large benign tumor can lead to significant pain and a vast range of symptoms.

As a neurology specialist and an expert in spine tumors, Richard B. Kim, MD, understands the challenge of treating spinal tumors while protecting nerve and spine function. He has helped many people navigate the journey from potentially debilitating symptoms to restoring optimal function.

If you have any questions or concerns about your symptoms, don’t hesitate to call the office in Newport Beach or Orange, California. Meanwhile, here’s the basic information you should know about spinal tumors.

About spinal tumors

Like all tumors in your body, spinal tumors develop when cells grow uncontrollably and form an abnormal mass of tissue. Spinal tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign. While there are many types of tumors, they’re all classified as primary or secondary.

Primary spinal tumors

These tumors originate in your spine, where they may begin in the membranes covering the spinal cord, between the membranes and the spinal cord, or directly in the spinal cord or nerves. 

Secondary spinal tumors

Secondary spinal tumors begin as cancer elsewhere in your body that spreads to the spine. The cancers most likely to spread to the spine include lung, breast, and prostate cancers. However, many other cancers can end up in your spine.

Types of spinal tumors

Most malignant spinal tumors affect the vertebrae and occur when bone cancer metastasizes to the spine from another part of your body. Though you expect severe symptoms from malignant tumors, benign tumors can also cause severe symptoms if they grow large enough to press against the nerves. 

These are only three of the many types of primary spinal tumors: ependymomas, meningiomas, and astrocytomas.


Ependymomas are the most common type of spinal cord tumor. These tumors originate in the spinal cord and they’re malignant. However, some grow slowly, while others develop rapidly. Ependymomas rarely metastasize to your body, but they can spread to other parts of the central nervous system through the cerebrospinal fluid.


Meningiomas develop in the membranes that surround and protect your spinal cord (called meninges). These tumors are typically benign, but a very small percentage turn into cancer. A benign meningioma can still cause damage and become life threatening if it gets too large.


Spinal astrocytomas are the most common spinal tumor in children and the second most frequent in adults. Astrocytomas are usually malignant. They originate in cells called astrocytes that promote nerve communication and support nerve health.

Spinal cord tumor symptoms

You won’t be surprised to learn that the symptoms you experience depend on the location, type, and size of your spinal tumor. Small, slow-growing tumors may not cause any symptoms. But when symptoms develop, you may experience one or more of the following:

Any time your symptoms persist or get worse, it’s essential to protect your health and seek a professional evaluation. Call Richard B. Kim, MD, or book an appointment online today.

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