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All types of cancer, including spinal cancers, have to be precisely identified through a series of diagnostic tests and screenings. These are performed to gather as much information as possible about the variety of cancer affecting a patient. This data is used to arrive at a highly specific diagnosis that will help guide the formation of a treatment plan. A patient’s care team in Anchorage providing spinal cancer treatment will work very closely together to ensure that everything done is in keeping with the very best scientific knowledge available regarding a particular type of cancer.

The three types of primary (different than cancer that starts elsewhere and then spreads to the spine) spinal cancer most frequently diagnosed are:

  •    Intramedullary tumors
  •    Extramedullary tumors
  •    Vertebral column tumors

Intramedullary Tumors

These tumors begin inside the cells that make up the spinal cord or from the glial cells, which provide essential support and insulation for the nervous system. An intramedullary tumor is most likely to be found in the cervical (neck) spine. Even though these tumors are often benign, removing them via surgery can be complicated. Intramedullary tumors are most likely to be classified as astrocytomas or ependymomas.

Extramedullary Tumors

These tumors grow outside the nerves and inside the dura within the spinal canal. This canal covers the spinal cord. Although these tumors are often slow-growing and benign, they may potentially interfere with nerve function, leading to pain or weakness. Two types of Extramedullary tumors are most common – nerve sheath tumors (including both neurofibromas and schwannomas) and meningiomas arising from the membrane surrounding the spinal cord. Potentially malignant, these most often affect middle aged and elderly women.

Vertebral Column Tumors

Typically occurring in younger adults, these tumors are found in the vertebral column growing from the discs or bones of the spine. Although most primary spinal tumors are slow growing, malignant osteosarcomas can be found here.

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