Tumors of the spine and spinal cord are relatively uncommon. The most common initial symptom that patients with a spinal tumor have is pain. Because neck pain, and pain caused by a neck (cervical) disorder is very common, it is also not a specific symptom of any one disease or medical condition.
Spinal cord tumors can be either primary (originating in the spinal cord) or secondary (metastases of cancer that originated elsewhere in the body). Therefore, the doctor’s challenge is to determine how to evaluate neck pain with the goal of specifically excluding a tumor as the cause of the pain. Luckily, most neck pain is not due to a tumor.
Doctors use the term “benign” to indicate that a particular tumor is unlikely to spread to others parts of the body. Benign tumors can still be a significant problem however, depending upon their location, size, adjacent structures, blood supply, and other factors. The tumor can push on the spinal cord or the nerves and cause pain or loss of function. Fortunately, most benign tumors can be treated successfully.
Doctors use the term “malignant” to indicate tumors that spread rapidly. Some of these tumors may enter the spine from other parts of the body. They may affect the integrity of the spine, causing pain. They can also push on the spinal cord or the nerves and cause pain and or loss of function.