Even if a spinal tumor is non-cancerous, or benign, it must be timely diagnosed and destroyed or removed. If the tumor continues to grow, it can put pressure on spinal nerves and lead to chronic pain, paralysis, neurological disorders and the loss of bowel or bladder function.
What Are Spinal Tumors?
The spine consists of a column of bones, or vertebrae, which is covered by a layer of connective tissue, or dura. Spinal tumors may be found within the spinal cord or outside of the dura. If the tumor originates within the spinal column, it is called a primary tumor. If it originates in other organs and spreads to the spine, it is referred to as a metastatic tumor. A tumor may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Spinal tumors include:
- Verterbral column tumors – These tumors typically are metastatic. In men, the tumor may have started in the prostate or lung. In women, it may have originated in the breast or lung. Osteogenic sarcoma is a type of tumor that arises from bone and cartilage cells in the spine. It tends to be malignant. Osteoid osteoma arises in the same fashion but tends to be benign.
- Intradural-extramedullary tumors – These tumors arise inside the dura but outside of the spinal cord. Meningioma (schwannoma) is a tumor that originates in a thin layer beneath the dura, while a nerve sheath tumor (neurofibroma) arises in nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord. These tumors typically are benign. Filum terminale ependymoma originates in the base of the spinal cord.
- Intramedullary tumors – These tumors typically arise within the cervical spinal cord. Astrocytomas and ependymomas are common types. Hemangioblastoma is a type that occurs less frequently. These tumors tend to be benign.
How Are Spinal Tumors Diagnosed?
Common symptoms of a spinal tumor are neck or back pain, loss of sensation or control below the area where the tumor is located or weakness in one’s limbs. Other symptoms include difficulty controlling one’s bowel and bladder functions. A patient with these symptoms typically should be referred to a neurologist.
Tests that can be performed to identify if a spinal tumor is present include MRIs and CT scans. Another test is a myelogram, which involves injecting a contrast dye into the spinal column so that the spinal cord and spinal nerves can be readily observed in CT scans and X-rays.
If a tumor is detected, a biopsy can be performed to determine if the tumor is malignant or benign. This involves removing tissue and examining the cells under a microscope. A biopsy can also be used to determine the grade, or aggressiveness, of the cancer if the tumor turns out to be malignant.
Consequences of Delayed or Misdiagnosed Benign Spinal Tumors
If detected at an early stage, many types of spinal tumors can be removed through surgery. However, due to the tumor’s location within the spine or attachment to spinal nerves, destroying the tumor through radiation therapy may be the only option.
Because they are not common and share symptoms with other more common back and bladder problems, spinal tumors may be misdiagnosed. The missed or delayed diagnosis may occur because a physician:
- Does not take the time to learn of the patient’s symptoms
- Fails to refer a patient to a neurologist or neurosurgeon
- Does not review a patient’s full medical history
- Fails to conduct a physical and neurological examination
- Fails to order appropriate tests (MRIs, CT scans, myelogram or biopsy).
A missed or delayed diagnosis of a spinal tumor – even if the tumor is benign – can lead to spinal cord compression, or excess pressure being placed on the spinal cord. If not treated, spinal cord compression can cause serious nerve damage and paralysis.
For example, a condition that may result is cauda equine syndrome. This condition occurs when too much pressure is placed on the bundle of nerves located in the lumbar region of the spine. To prevent permanent harm, an emergency surgery may be required.
Our Delayed Benign Spinal Tumor Attorneys Can Help You
For more than 30 years, Powers & Santola, LLP, has assisted patients and their families in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and surrounding communities in New York State that have suffered harm due to the missed or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition, including benign spinal tumors. Contact us today to schedule a free review of your case. We can help you to determine why your tumor was misdiagnosed and explain the legal options that may be available to you.