How Is Spine Cancer Diagnosed?

Spinal cancer affects the spinal column’s bones, discs, and nerves. It can be primary, starting in the spine, or secondary, spreading from somewhere else in the body. The symptoms of spinal cancer vary depending on the tumor’s location and severity.

Early detection of spine cancer is critical because it increases the likelihood of successful treatment. It can also prevent spinal cancer from advancing to other body parts, leading to more life-threatening complications. If you think you may have spinal issues or spine cancer, contact our team at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery for support. We can help answer any questions you may have.

Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Cancer 

Spinal cancer can affect almost all areas of the spine, which relays messages from the brain to various body areas. When cancer cells form within the spinal cord, they can compress or damage the nerves, causing symptoms that vary subject to the tumor size and location. Back pain that worsens at night, difficulty walking, loss of sensation or weakness in the extremities, and spasms or muscle weakness are common symptoms of spine cancer.

Tumors that develop in the neck may lead to headaches and neck pain, while those closer to the tailbone result in leg pain and numbness. Most tumors occurring in the central nervous system are metastatic, meaning they can spread to other body parts from the spine. Therefore, it’s vital to recognize these signs of spine cancer and seek immediate medical attention to receive appropriate treatment.

How Is Spine Cancer Diagnosed?

A thorough medical history and physical examination are essential in diagnosing and treating spine cancer. During an initial consultation with a spine specialist at OLSS, patients are asked about their medical history. This includes any previous medical conditions, spinal surgeries, current medications, a genetic predisposition for spine cancer, and other pertinent information.

A physical exam is performed to evaluate the patient’s overall health and the presence of spine cancer. Additional tests, such as imaging, MRI, and CT scans, may be employed to confirm a spine cancer diagnosis and help identify the best course of treatment, as discussed below. 

Imaging Tests

When doctors suspect spine cancer, they usually recommend imaging tests for accurate diagnosis. Imaging tests like X-rays, MRI, and CT scans produce highly detailed images of the spine that can aid in detecting tumors, fractures, and other abnormal growths.

A contrast dye is used during an imaging test to help make tumors visible on scans. Imaging tests are crucial for determining the presence of spine cancer and developing treatment plans for patients.


A biopsy is a diagnostic test employed by neurosurgeons to identify cancer. Needle, surgical, and bone biopsies are the most commonly used ways to determine the presence of cancerous cells in the spine. A needle biopsy involves inserting a needle into the area of the spine suspected of having cancerous growths to collect small tissue samples.

Surgical biopsies involve the surgical removal of a small portion of the tumor for further investigation. A bone biopsy is performed by inserting a needle through the skin and soft tissues into the bone and removing a small piece of bone for testing. Your doctor may recommend one over the other based on the location, tumor size, and your overall physical health.

Blood Tests

A variety of blood tests may be used to assist with the diagnosis of spine cancer. The complete blood count (CBC) test detects abnormal levels of white blood cells, which may indicate inflammation or infection of the spine. A chemistry panel test measures various chemicals and minerals in the blood, such as electrolytes, proteins, and enzymes. It aids in detecting imbalances that may point to spine cancer, like elevated calcium levels, which may also show bone destruction caused by cancer.

Spine cancer is also diagnosed using serum protein electrophoresis (SPEP) and tumor marker tests. A SPEP test establishes the amount and type of proteins in blood serum. The technique is helpful in identifying the levels of myeloma cells, a cancerous disease that develops in the spine.

Spine Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Spine cancer is a serious medical condition that requires timely diagnosis and treatment. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are all possible treatments determined by the patient’s medical history and physical health, as well as the severity, location, and type of cancer. Recovery from spinal cancer can take several weeks or months.

Post-operative rehabilitation varies by patient, but may involve epidural steroid injections for pain management medication and physical therapy to help patients regain mobility. A healthy and balanced diet is also highly recommended to help strengthen the immune system and promote rapid healing. To ensure the best possible outcome, the spine cancer treatment and recovery process necessitates a multidisciplinary approach involving medical professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and emotional support networks.

Consult Florida Spine Specialists at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery

Overall, cancer survival rates have increased over the years thanks to advances in immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgical interventions. Through early detection and spinal cancer diagnosis, spine specialists can create a personalized medical plan tailored to each patient’s needs for an improved survival rate.

If you have persistent, unexplained back pain or weakness or numbness in your legs, contact our Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery specialists at (855) 853-6542. We offer non-surgical treatment options, including minimally-invasive surgeries to treat various back, neck, and spinal conditions. Complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation and be on your way to a pain-free life.

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