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Spinal cancer symptoms

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on June 7, 2022.

Spinal cancer symptoms vary widely, from difficulty urinating to issues with nerve and muscle control and weakness. Factors such as the spinal tumor type (whether it's a vertebral tumor or spinal cord tumor), as well as its size and patient's age and overall health history may influence which symptoms develop when.

The symptoms of spinal cancer may occur very slowly. Other times, they occur quickly, even over a matter of hours or days. Metastatic spinal tumors, which have spread to the spine from another location in the body, such as the prostate or kidneys, often progress quickly.

What are the signs and symptoms of spinal tumors?

  • Back pain and/or pain in the neck pain, arm and/or leg
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking
  • General loss of sensation
  • Difficulty with urination (incontinence)
  • Change in bowel habits (retention)
  • Paralysis to varying degrees
  • Spinal deformities
  • Pain or difficulty with standing

The most noticeable sign of spinal cancer is pain. Pain may come from the tumor's presence in the spinal column, pushing on sensitive nerve endings or causing spinal instability. When the spine is not lined up properly, other physically notable symptoms may result (e.g., changes in posture, Kyphosis or hunchback).

When the tumor presses on the spinal cord, symptoms may begin with numbness or tingling in the arms or legs. Next, patients may experience clumsiness, not knowing where their feet are, and difficulty with buttons or keys. As the disease progresses, spinal cancer symptoms may grow to include weakness, inability to move the legs and, eventually, paralysis.

Next topic: What are the types of spinal cancer?

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