Screenings and Diagnosis

Spinal cancer testing options, risk factors, and symptoms.

It’s important to identify and locate spinal tumors (tumors in the bone of the spine) and spinal cord tumors (tumors that are on the spinal cord) as soon as possible. Catching these tumors early improves your chances of a good outcome and returning to your normal activities.

We provide comprehensive diagnostic services for spinal cancer with a variety of advanced tests. If we find that you have a spinal or spinal cord tumor, we’ll provide as much information about it as possible so you and your doctor can decide on the best plan for your treatment.

How does Henry Ford diagnose spinal and spinal cord tumors?

We use a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan with gadolinium contrast to diagnose these tumors. Gadolinium contrast is a substance we inject into a patient’s body to make tissues, abnormalities, or disease processes more visible during MRI scans.

We may need additional tests to get more information about your spinal or spinal cord tumor. These tests may include:

  • Angiogram (a special X-ray of blood or lymph vessels) to study how these vessels interact with the tumor.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan to study how the tumor may have affected your spine.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan or nuclear study for continued monitoring of the tumor.

Spine cancer risk factors

Most spinal tumors are metastatic. This means the tumors have spread from another tumor site. About 10 percent of metastatic tumors can lodge into the spine.

The following types of cancer are most likely to spread to the spine:

Some kinds of spinal cord tumors have a genetic risk factor. In particular, nerve cell sheath tumors, or tumors that grow in cells that surround nerves, are caused by a genetic abnormality patients inherit from family members. These tumors usually are benign (noncancerous), though they occasionally may become malignant (cancerous).

Spine cancer symptoms

Some of the symptoms of spinal tumors or spinal cord tumors include:

  • Back pain
  • Bowel or bladder urgency/control issues
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness of the arms and legs
  • Tingling weakness
  • Weakness of arms or legs

Patients often think these are normal signs of aging. Cancer patients may think these symptoms are related to their cancer treatment. If you have any of these symptoms -- especially if you’ve had breast, colon, or lung cancer -- talk to your doctor or medical oncologist right away.

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