Spinal tumours are rare in children but can occur in the cervical (neck), middle (thoracic) and lower (lumbar) parts of the spine. Those that originate in the spinal tissue (primary tumours) can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Those that begin as cancer in the body and then spread to the spine are called secondary or metastatic tumours. All types of spinal tumours can cause complications due to the proximity of the spinal cord and nerves.
The main symptom of spinal tumours in children is severe and persistent neck or back pain that cannot be relieved by pain medication. Other symptoms might include muscle weakness, tingling or numbness in arms or legs, decreased motor skills, loss of bladder or bowel control.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Spinal tumours can be difficult to diagnose due to the similarity of symptoms to other conditions. As well as looking at your family’s medical history, a physical and neurological examination of your child is necessary. X-rays and imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans might be used to view the spine and check for abnormal growths. Cerebrospinal fluid can be analysed to check for tumour cells. A biopsy of the tumour might also be taken for analysis.
Treatment depends on the individual child, their health and circumstances and the location of the tumour. Any surgery will focus on minimising or removing the tumour to relieve symptoms such as pain and prevent damage to the spine.
Some of the treatment options include:
- Monitoring: Doctors can monitor tumours even before the development of symptoms. This is often suggested for babies and children where surgery can pose severe health risks.
- Surgery: Removing the tumour through surgery is most often the best treatment. This is done using high-powered microscopes, while monitoring the functioning of the surrounding nerves and blood vessels to reduce the risk of damage to these tissues. The surgeon may use high-frequency sound waves to first breakdown the tumour into fragments, which can then be easily removed. However, if a tumour cannot be removed completely, surgery will be combined with radiation and/or chemotherapy.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation is used to destroy remnants of spinal tumours after surgery, for those that cannot be treated with surgery or metastatic cancers that have spread from other parts of the body to the spinal cord.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment involves the use of drugs to destroy the tumour cells or restrict their growth. Chemotherapy can also be used in combination with radiation therapy.
- Possible Radiation / chemo therapy
- Follow up MRI
- Possible follow up surgery
- Occupational therapy
- Psychological support as needed
- Pain medication as required
- We recommend a support group for children and families