Spinal cord tumours are small growths or masses of cells that form on the spinal cord, in the spinal canal or in the vertebrae. Spinal cord tumours are classified into various types depending on where they occur. A vertebral tumour is one that occurs on the bony vertebrae protecting the spinal cord. Extramedullary tumours grow in the membrane surrounding the spinal cord or in the nerve roots emerging from the spine. These growths can cause compression on the spine and other associated problems. Examples of extramedullary tumours are meningiomas, neurofibromas, schwannomas, and nerve sheath tumours. Intramedullary tumours occur in the core tissue of the spinal cord, like gliomas, astrocytoma and ependymomas. Tumours originating in other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, can also metastasise to the vertebrae and the spinal cord.
The course of treatment for spinal cord tumours is carefully decided based on the type of tumour, location, extent of spread and the general health of the patient. Non-surgical treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy, both of which have proven effective in treating spinal cord tumours. For primary tumours in the spinal cord, complete surgical removal could be curative. In the case of metastasised tumours (tumours that have spread from another part of the body), removal may be only palliative, with the goal of preserving neurological function, reducing pain and stabilising the spine. For cases where the surgical removal of the tumour is possible, pre-operative embolization is recommended to make resection easier. During embolization, a catheter is inserted into tumour under fluoroscopy guidance, and a glue-like embolic agent is injected into the tumour. This compound blocks the blood supply to the tumour, effectively killing it. This helps control bleeding during surgery.