Spinal Ependymoma Tumor: Causes & Treatment

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: February 24, 2016

Spinal Ependymoma

A spinal ependymoma is the medical term for a certain type of tumor that develops in the spinal cord. They make up about 15 percent of all spinal tumors, and they are most common in the intramedullary neoplasm in adults. This means that the tumor develops inside the spinal cord tissue itself, as opposed to an outside developing tumor that compresses the spinal cord. These types of tumors can be extremely problematic, but they can be treated with proper care. We take a closer look at the rare condition in this blog.

Occurrence and Causes of Spinal Ependymomas

The mean age for a person who develops a spinal ependymoma is 39 years of age, but about one in four tumors will develop before a person reaches the age of 18. A spinal ependymoma is more common among males than among females, but it’s not exactly certain why this occurs.

As we mentioned above, spinal ependymomas are intramedullary tumors that develop inside the spinal cord, but they can grow in a variety of different places inside the cord. Presentation in the cervical cord is the most common, with about 44 percent of ependymomas developing in this area. About 26 percent develop in the thoracic cord alone, while another 23 percent begin in the cervical cord and extend to the upper thoracic cord.

Symptoms of spinal ependymomas include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Sensory changes
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Decreased motor function

Diagnosis and Treatment

A doctor diagnoses the presence of a spinal ependymoma with the help of an MRI or CT scan. An MRI is usually the preferred method, and it helps the doctor look for a variety of related conditions, like cysts or spinal cord widening.

Treating the ependymoma will involve surgery, and the sooner the condition is caught, the better. Thankfully, most ependymomas are slow-growing, and they tend to compress spinal cord tissue instead of infiltrating it, making it easier for the surgeon to remove without harming other areas of the body. The five-year survival rate for patients who have the ependymoma completely removed is above 85 percent, and recurrence is very rare. Metastatic spread to the lymph nodes is also very rare.

So while it’s very unlikely that you’re suffering from a spinal ependymoma, if you’re in your 40’s and you’ve noticed some general weakness in your arms or legs, swing into a spine specialist to see what’s going on inside your body.

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