Back Pain – Is it a Tumor?

by LMatthews on January 21, 2015

spinal cancer back pain symptomsSpinal cancer is not the typical diagnosis when back pain strikes, but there are some symptoms that are red flags for a tumor or tumors in the spine. Spotting cancer early gives you the best chance of success, but due to the varying symptoms of cancer in the spine, and the relatively frequent occurrence of uncomplicated back pain, many people are not diagnosed until a tumor has already become quite large or metastasised.

If back pain persists, worsens, and is unresponsive to rest and conservative treatment, and is accompanied by the following symptoms, it is definitely time to talk to your physician about tests for cancer.

Some symptoms to watch out for include:


  • Back and/or neck pain
  • Pain in the arm and/or leg
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Numbness (loss of sensation)
  • Problems walking
  • Pain and/or difficulty standing
  • Urinary incontinence or other difficulties
  • Constipation (or other bowel problems)
  • Paralysis
  • Dramatic, unexplained weight loss
  • Deformation of the spine

The most common early sign of cancer is back pain or referred pain caused by a tumor putting pressure on the spinal nerves and/or spinal cord, or causing the spine to become unstable. Instability in the spine may then lead to altered posture, including possible kyphosis, or hunchback. Other symptoms may also arise, including numbness, weakness, atrophy of muscles and changes in temperature in the limbs as nerves and blood vessels are obstructed by spinal structures or by the tumor itself.

Some people with spinal cancer become clumsy and dyspraxic, experiencing difficulty with buttons, keys, and other fine motor skills. This usually occurs after symptoms of numbness and tingling in the arms or legs, and is followed by weakness, loss of mobility and paralysis.

Symptoms of spinal cancer depend on the type of tumor, its location, size and whether or not the cancer has metastasized (spread from its original location). A patient’s age, medical history, and other factors will also influence the progression, severity, and symptoms of spinal cancer.

Typically, an isolated spinal tumor causes a very slow progression of symptoms. However, some fast-growing cancers can lead to a rapid onset and progression of symptoms in just a matter of days or even hours. Tumors that have metastasized often progress rapidly and can cause a variety of symptoms that appear to be unrelated to the spine. This is because, once metastasized, the cancerous cells begin to interfere with other tissues and organs of the body.

Anyone who suspects that spinal cancer is the cause of their back pain should seek medical attention for a thorough examination. Catching spinal cancer before it metastasizes or causes severe damage to spinal nerves and the spinal cord can help prevent permanent paralysis and improve the odds of successfully eradicating cancer.


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