Though spinal cord tumors in children do occur, they are fortunately quite rare. Spinal tumors, which are also referred to as neoplasms, are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the spinal column. Spinal tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Whether benign or malignant, if left untreated, spinal cord tumors can be very serious health problems and may even become life-threatening.
Spinal tumors will generally have mild symptoms that worsen over time. The most common symptoms of this condition include chronic back pain, fever, issues with bladder control, sciatica, numbness, weakness, spinal deformity, and partial paralysis. Because symptoms are oftentimes difficult to detect in infants and young children, regular pediatric check-ups are vital in detecting many potentially serious health conditions, including spinal cord tumors.
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The first step of diagnosing a spinal cord tumor in a child is to analyze the child’s complete health history and conduct a thorough physical exam. If a spinal cord tumor is suspected after completing these steps, the child may need to undergo certain diagnostic tests to rule out other health conditions. These tests could include lab tests of the child’s blood and spinal fluid, an x-ray of the spine, an MRI, and/or a CT Scan. If a spinal cord tumor is indeed diagnosed, immediate treatment is often necessary.
In certain cases involving a very small tumor that is not causing any significant signs or symptoms, simply monitoring the tumor without an immediate treatment may be an option.
If a tumor is causing significant symptoms and is benign (non-cancerous), surgery is the most common treatment. Surgery may also be the only needed treatment so long as the tumor is located in an area where a neurosurgeon can completely and safely remove the tumor.
Radiation therapy, which is also referred to as radiotherapy, is commonly used post-surgery to treat the most malignant spinal cord tumors. This type of therapy can also be used in cases where a neurosurgeon could not safely or completely remove the tumor during surgery. It is important to note that radiation therapy is not used in very young children because it may have a negative impact on the child’s developing brain.
In cases where a pediatric spine tumor is malignant and rapidly growing, chemotherapy may be recommended as it can slow the tumor’s growth and be effective in addressing a child’s symptoms.
Related: Three Common Spine Curvature Disorders
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