Spinal Cord Tumors

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At the UCLA Health Spine Center, our experts diagnose, manage and treat all spinal injuries and conditions. Call 310-319-3475 to connect with a spine specialist.

What You Should Know About Spinal Cord Tumors

There is a variety of intradural tumors that occur within the spinal cord or spinal canal. Spinal Cord Tumors are generally divided into those that are contained within the enveloping membranes (meninges) that surround the cord (intradural), and those that lie outside these coverings (extradural). The dura is the outermost of these coverings. The majority arise from the cellular constituents of the spinal cord and filum terminale, nerve roots, or meninges.

Tumors are characterized according to their relationship to the spinal cord. Intramedullary tumors arise within the substance of the spinal cord, whereas extramedullary intradural tumors are extrinsic to the cord but lie within the dural envelope covering the spinal cord. Extradural tumors of the spine may also cause spinal cord compression. Many of these tumors are benign. The most common malignant tumor of the spine is a metastatic tumor, i.e., tumors that have spread from malignant tumors originating elsewhere in the body.


Spinal cord tumors present with pain that is usually localized to the areas of the tumor itself. Over time, this pain will spread and be accompanied by weakness, numbness, fatigue, and spasticity. Benign tumors show symptoms up to two years before diagnosis, whereas malignant tumors often present within a month of diagnosis.


MRI is the diagnostic test of choice for all spinal tumors.


Like all tumors, spinal cord tumors require complete and timely surgical removal to minimize the possibility of recurrence and spreading. Radiation or chemotherapy is indicated in all instances of potential malignancy.