Cancer is a scary word. But when you know all the facts, knowledge and understanding can reduce the fear. Find out everything you need to know about cancer and its effects...

Spine Cancer

Cancer is one of life's unfortunate diseases and one that affects almost 300,000 people each year in the UK. Fortunately, the chances of surviving the cancer are much higher for people contracting the symptoms today when compared to survival rates 30 years ago; this is thanks to advancements in medical science and technology.

People can become infected with cancer in numerous ways; one form of the disease that can be hard to live with is spine cancer. Cancer of the spine can be caused in two ways, either by a tumour on the spine becoming cancerous or the cancer spreading to the area from another part of the body; this is known as metastatic.

Spinal cord tumours

Of the total number of spine cancer victims in the UK, spinal cord tumours will generally only affect 5% of people. Spinal cord cancer occurs when the cells in the central nervous system cease to grow in a controlled way and form a lump or tumour. The tumour can be either benign or malignant.

A tumour that is benign will be the easiest to treat; this is because although cells are able to continue in growth, they remain in the same area. A malignant tumour will be much more vicious and can spread to other parts of the central nervous system.

There are different types of tumour that can affect the spinal cord:

  • Intramedullary tumours. These are located within the nerves of the spinal cord.
  • Intradural extramedullary tumours. These are found on the outside of the spinal cord having begun on the inside of cord.
  • Exdural spinal tumours. These are tumours that start in the bones of the spine and can be both malignant and benign.

Metastatic spine cancer

Metastatic cancer which has spread from another part of the body is much more common than spinal tumours; up to 80% of cancer victims will suffer from the symptoms of this form of spine cancer.

This form of the disease can be developed either primarily or secondary and sufferers will feel distinct symptoms, generally in the vertebrae but also through compression of the spine.

Symptoms of spine cancer

The symptoms that come with spinal cancer will generally be the same with both tumours and metastatic forms. Pain is the greatest of these symptoms. Pain is usually caused by the cancer placing pressure on the nerves, this will in turn affect limbs which become weak and painful to use.

Weakness and a loss of sensitivity are also common and sufferers become clumsy and find difficulty in walking because of the brain being unable to communicate properly with the legs.

Treatment of spine cancer

There are different ways to treat spinal cancer sufferers, the main methods of treatment used are:

  • Surgery. This is done in order to remove a tumour either partly or fully
  • Radiotherapy uses high-energy to destroy cancer cells
  • Steroids are used to reduce swelling and ease symptoms
  • Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs that can destroy cells. This kind of treatment is only used on certain types of spinal cancer.