Spine Cancer: Treatment & Recovery Time
Q. What are spinal tumours?
A spinal tumour is an abnormal growth of tissue that occurs in and around the spine. Spinal tumour can be primary (originate in the spine itself) – rare, or secondary (metastatic, moving to the spine from another location). The most common cancers that metastasis to the spine are the lung, breast, renal and prostate cancers.
Q. What happens in a metastatic spine tumour?
‘Metastatic’ is a term that is used to describe a tumour that has spread from its original location to other parts of the body. In fact, the skeletal system is the third most common site for metastases. Cancer that metastases to the spine if often not fatal, but it can cause pain and compress nerves. Compression of nerves can cause weakness or paralysis of limbs. Treatment is majorly focused on maintaining the quality of life.
Q. Where do spinal tumours occur?
Most spinal tumours are located in the centre of the back, but may also occur in the lower back or neck region. The symptoms experienced by patients having spinal cancer vary with the location of the tumour itself.
Q. What symptoms should I expect in case of a spinal tumour?
Not all patients experience direct symptoms. The most common symptoms, however, is pain, which could be a persistent back or neck pain. There could also be numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation in the arms and legs, problems in walking and keeping balance, along with difficulty in maintaining bowel and bladder control.
Q. What are my treatment options?
The type of tumour, its location and the size of the tumour in the spine dictate the treatment plan. Treatment options include pain management in form of medication, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and vertebroplasty (injecting bone cement into spinal bones to strength them).
Q. Do I need to undergo surgery for spine cancer?
Surgery for metastatic spinal cancer helps improve or maintain quality of life. Surgery can be a good option in the following cases:
- Tumour can be removed without complications.
- Control of tumour growth, often in conjunction with radiation and/chemotherapy.
- Alleviation of symptoms by reducing pressure on affected nerves and stabilising spine to prevent any deformities, collapse or paralysis.
Surgery aims to reduce pain, restore spinal stability and improve mobility, preserve neurological function and change prognosis.
Q. Am I a candidate for surgery?
Surgery for spinal cancers is carried out on patients who fulfil the following criteria:
- Are medically stable.
- Have an expected survival rate of three months or more.
- Systemic disease spread is under control.
Q. What is the recovery period post surgery?
The duration of hospital stay depends on the type and extent of surgery. Usually, a patient is kept in the hospital for five to ten days. Patients will require assistance in daily activities for few weeks following the surgery. A rehabilitation programme helps a patient receive therapy to regain movement and return to normal activities, either in rehab unit at the hospital of at home.