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Spinal cancer

About spinal cancer

Primary spinal cancer develops from cells within the spinal cord or from its surrounding structures (the bones, tissues, fluid or nerves of the spine).

Part of the central nervous system (CNS), the spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that extends from the base of the brain down the back. It is surrounded by three protective membranes and is enclosed within the vertebrae. The spinal cord carries important messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

In 2019, an estimated 23,820 new cases of malignant neoplasms of the brain or spinal cord will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Spinal cancer is a relatively rare condition, with about 1 in 140 men and 1 in 180 women developing the disease in their lifetime.

Metastatic disease to the central nervous system occurs much more frequently, with an estimated incidence of about 10 times that of primary tumors.

How it develops

The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system (CNS). Cancer can begin in the CNS or, more commonly, it can spread there.

Primary spinal cord or column tumors are tumors that form from cells within the spinal cord itself or from its surrounding structures. Most tumors of the spine are metastatic tumors, which spread to the spine from another location in the body.