A spinal tumor diagnosis is usually made after a patient experiences symptoms like neck or back pain. Because there are no general screening tests available to facilitate the early detection of spine cancer, education is an especially important component of the diagnostic process. By learning to identify and be vigilant for possible signs of spine cancer, and by consulting with a physician when any concerns arise, a patient can take proactive steps to help protect him- or herself.
When symptoms are present, some of the procedures used by medical professionals to rule out or confirm a spinal tumor diagnosis include:
- Neurological examinations – Several tests can be performed to evaluate brain and spinal cord function by examining reflexes, muscle strength, vision, eye and mouth movement, balance, coordination and alertness.
- Imaging tests – Computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans and X-rays can be used to create detailed images that can provide vital information about suspected tumors.
- Lumbar punctures (spinal tap) – A small, hollow needle is inserted between the spinal vertebrae and used to obtain a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid, which a pathologist can evaluate under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
- Liquid molecular biopsy – This noninvasive blood test for a specific DNA biomarker can provide important information about the genetic makeup of a spinal tumor.
- Surgical or open biopsy (craniotomy) – If images indicate that a spinal tumor can be treated with surgery, a surgeon can perform a procedure to obtain a small sampling of tumor cells, which is evaluated immediately for the presence of cancer and used to guide the surgeon’s approach in removing all or a portion of the mass.
- Next-generation sequencing – The DNA and RNA molecules of cancer cells found in a tumor tissue sample are analyzed to obtain information about their genetic alterations, which can inform both diagnostic and treatment decisions.
The Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center offers a streamlined spine cancer diagnostic process, including advanced neurological examination techniques, the latest diagnostic imaging technologies and minimally invasive surgical procedures. If a spinal tumor diagnosis is confirmed, our multispecialty team can create an individualized plan for treatment. In a single, convenient location, Moffitt patients have access to all aspects of comprehensive cancer care, including board-certified physicians and robust clinical trials, as well as interactive animated videos and other information designed to facilitate an understanding of a spinal tumor diagnosis.
For more information about the spinal tumor diagnosis process at Moffitt Cancer Center, contact us at 1-888-MOFFITT or schedule an appointment online. We accept new patients with and without referrals.