Is Cancer of the Spine Fatal?

A cancer is a fatal disease which can be on lung, prostate, breast, spinal and many other parts of the body. As the name suggests, spinal cancer is a type of cancer in which tumor grows within the spinal canal or the bones of the spine. Spinal cancer is also known as an extradural tumor. Different types of tumors affect diverse body parts like vertebra tumor affect the bones of the spine or vertebrae in the same way intramedullary or extramedullary tumor affects the spinal cord. Spinal cord cancer develops from the surrounding cell or structure like bone, fluid etc. Is Cancer of the Spine Fatal?

Is Cancer of the Spine Fatal?

The result of cancer of the spine and its associated structure is evenly harmful. The patient’s survival rate with cancer of spine is almost 10 months. Spinal cord is the part of the CNS (Central Nervous System). It is a cylindrical continuation of the brainstem consists of a column of nerve tissue that spread from the neck to down the back. It plays a vital role in our body by transferring the signal to the brain and also connects a large part of PNS (peripheral nervous system). As spinal cord plays a vast role in our body, its cancer is dangerous to the body. Cancer damages the spinal cord very fast. Some patients also get paralyzed due to spinal cancer. It causes the compression of the nerve or spinal instability with resultant loss of motor neurons and accompanied by growing sphincter dysfunction and ascending sensory receptivity. Cancer of the spine is one of the major causes of death as compared to all the cancer. Spinal cancer causes pain, weakness in arms or legs. It makes the patient dull and experience numbness. Spinal cancer also damages bladder and causes change in the bowel. All these effects compromise with the patient’s survival. The pre-terminal event has appeared as a spinal cord compression. At this stage, the median survival is about 3 months.

Symptoms of Cancer of the Spine

The cancer causing tumor of the spine causes many signs and symptoms, especially at the time of cancer cell growth. The tumors affect the various structures like the spinal cord or the surrounding structures like the blood vessels, nerve roots, or the bones of the spine. Followings are the signs that can be seen:

Pain at the Spine:

  • An unbearable pain in the spine
  • Back pain that may also spread to the other part of the body too
  • A sensation of pain like hotness and cold might be diminished
  • Back pain, especially intolerable in the night
  • Pain may also radiate from your back to your legs, hips, arms or feet and it may get worse with time — even with the treatment too.

Neurological Dysfunction:

  • It is basically occurs as weakening or tingling in arms or legs. It begins to develop in the body parts and this may cause difficulty in walking. It also leads to falling sometimes.
  • Loss of muscle strength, experiencing weakness or sensations, particularly in your arms or legs.
  • Muscle weakness can also be moderate or critical, in various parts of your body. It may go worst with the passage of time.
  • Some patients face difficulty with urination (incontinence)
  • The patient may also have a change in bowel habits (retention).
  • Back pain can be due to various reasons and cancer isn’t the only cause of it. However, back pain must not be ignored. Timely diagnosis and treatment of spinal cancer is very important otherwise it can be fatal.

Diagnosis of Cancer of the Spine

Several imaging modalities come into use to diagnose cancer of the spine which is:


X-Ray is used only at the time when a fracture is suspected. As X-ray can only show bony images not soft tissue so other tests like CT scan (Computed Tomography) or MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are used.

CT Scan to Diagnose Spinal Cancer:

CT scan is preferable than X-Ray as it clearly differentiates the soft tissue from bone but for more accurate result doctors advise for MRI scan.

MRI Scan:

MRI is the most sensitive among the other tests to get an accurate result. It is highly preferred in the diagnosis of spine cancer. MRI scan uses radio wave and magnetic field to perceive the better result.

Treatment of Cancer of the Spine

The main role of the medic is to reduce the pain. A great variety of medicines are used to lower the pain. Some of these are Gabapentin, Lamotrigine, Carbamazepine, Levetiracetam, Tiagabine, and Topiramate. The knowledge of the origin of cancer is very important to treat it. Anti-epileptic drugs and steroids are highly used to lower the pain. Surgical methods are only used after proper observation and evaluation because it is very risky and it may cause damage to the spinal cord and encircling nerves. Since, spinal cord cancer has very harmful effects so it must be considered in determining a treatment plan. Treatment options for most spinal cancer causing tumors include:


Often spinal tumors can be diagnosed while one is being evaluated for other diseases or disorders even before the tumor starts to show its symptoms. If a tumor is small which is neither growing nor pressing on the surrounding tissues, the doctor may only advice to watch them carefully and look for signs of further growth so that actions can be taken immediately. At the time of observation, doctors will possibly suggest periodic CT or MRI scans at a proper interval to watch the tumor.


It may be risky to deal with the tumor by surgery as it needs a lot of proper care. Even with this, there are very high chances of injury or damage to the spinal cord. In this, special spinal surgeons are allowed to remove the tumor tissue along with some amount of the surrounding tissue to avoid recurrence of the cancer.

Radiation Therapy:

This therapy is effective in the elimination of the portions of tumors or cancer cell that persist even after surgery. It is also helpful in case of treating incurable tumors or to heal those tumors where surgery is too risky.

Chemotherapy to Treat Spinal Cancer:

Chemotherapy is basically the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. Moreover, this technology is very efficient in blockage of cells from growing further.

Other Drugs:

Sometimes the treatment or the cancer itself causes the inflammation in spinal cord. Hence, corticosteroids are prescribed to diminish the swelling.


As cancer of the spine has very harmful effects like paralyze the body or losing control over the organs and their activity; hence, diagnosing and treatment of cancer of the spine at the earliest are necessary. Consult with a doctor as soon as the symptoms of spinal cancer are noticed without any delay. Proper medication and treatment have to be monitored in the case of cancer to treat it in a proper way.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 31, 2021

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