Types of Spinal Tumors

A spinal tumor is a clump of abnormal cells that grows in or near the spine.

Intramedullary spinal tumors

If it’s growing inside the spinal cord, it’s called an intramedullary spinal tumor. This group includes different types of tumors, including:

  • Astrocytomas — A type of glioma, these tumors arise from astrocytes, star-shaped cells that are the most abundant type of cell in the central nervous system.
  • Ependymomas. Like astrocytomas, they also arise from a type of glial cell (ependymal cells).
  • Hemangioblastomas, which arise from the blood vessels of the central nervous system.

Intradural extramedullary spinal tumors

If it’s growing outside the spinal cord but inside the dura — the protective covering around the spinal cord — it’s called an intradural extramedullary spinal tumor. While these types of tumors may not directly damage the spinal cord or nerves, they may cause symptoms by compressing these structures. This group includes:

  • Meningiomas, which are usually benign, begin in the covering around the spinal cord.
  • Neurofibromas begin in the nerve sheath that protects the peripheral nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord. These are usually benign.
  • Schwannomas are another type of nerve sheath tumor. Like neurofibromas, they are usually benign.

Extradural spinal tumors

If it’s growing outside the dura — the protective covering around the spinal cord — it’s called an extradural spinal tumor. Most spinal tumors are extradural, and most extradural spinal tumors are metastatic, which means the cells traveled to the spine from another location in the body. Metastatic spinal tumors often begin in the breast, lung, kidney, prostate or bone marrow (multiple myeloma).

Primary extradural spinal tumors include:

  • Osteoblastomas
  • Enchondromas
  • Aneurysmal bone cysts
  • Giant cell tumors
  • Osteosarcomas
  • Chordomas
  • Chondrosarcomas
  • Ewing’s sarcomas
  • Plasmacytomas

Who's at risk for spinal tumors?