Tumors of the Neck

Tumors in the cervical spine can cause pain and other severe discomfort and may require radiation, chemotherapy or surgery.

A tumor is an abnormal, excessive growth of cells and tissues in the body. In and of itself, a tumor may be harmless if the growth is slow (benign) and/or if there is little or no involvement of the surrounding anatomic structures.

However, if the growth is uncontrolled (malignant) and it affects the surrounding areas of the body, the effects can be harmful. When they involve the spine, tumors can often lead to symptoms including pain, weakness, numbness and tingling, or even paralysis.

What causes tumors?

Tumors occur when cells lose their ability to stop multiplying and tissues lose their ability to stop growing. Although we don’t know the exact reasons why cells lose their ability to stop growing, we do know that it is likely related to a genetic trigger that causes the cells to grow uncontrollably.

If the growing tumor pushes against spinal nerves, patients can experience severe pain down their arms. This is often called a radiculopathy.

If the tumor pushes against the spinal cord, patients can experience many symptoms including severe pain and/or weakness down their arms and legs. This is often called myelopathy. If the integrity of the spinal vertebrae is severely compromised, this can lead to a kyphotic posture (hunching forward) and/or instability of the spine.

Signs and symptoms

In addition to pain, pressure on nerves from tumors in the neck can also cause numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in your arms. Severe narrowing of the central spinal canal from tumors can compress your spinal cord leading to balance difficulties, problems using your hands, and even paralysis of your arms and legs. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is first suspected after a thorough history and physical examination are taken. Constitutional symptoms include fevers, chills, and/or weight loss.

If the tumor compresses any nerves in their neck, patients may complain of pain radiating from their neck down their arms. Patients may also commonly complain of numbness, tingling, and burning down their arms. They may also have muscle weakness. After a detailed examination, the diagnosis can be initially evaluated with plain X-rays and confirmed with an MRI or CT of the spine.

Treatment

Definitive treatment for patients with tumors depends on many factors and can only be determined in conjunction with a formal consultation with your physician.

In general, treatment can include either one, or a combination of the following modalities: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. Patients with progressive neurologic deterioration, and tumors that render a spine unstable may require surgical intervention. Your surgeon can go over the advantages and disadvantages of each of these treatment options with you.

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