The main treatment for spinal tumors is surgery. In general, surgery for cancerous spinal tumors removes more tissue than surgery for benign tumors. During surgery, the cancerous tumor is removed as well as a rim of normal tissue beyond the edge of the tumor, if possible. This is to avoid leaving behind any cancer cells, which could cause the tumor to regrow.
The best procedure for your child is based on the size, location and type of tumor. In some cases, this may be microsurgery through a very small cut and using an operating microscope. Your child’s doctor will talk with you about what is best for your child.
Surgeons remove as much tumor as they can. Sometimes the whole tumor cannot be removed because that would limit mobility or function too much. If only part of the tumor is removed, doctors use chemotherapy medicine or radiation. These are used before surgery to make the tumor smaller or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Some noncancerous tumors are removed by scraping the tumor out of the bone (curettage) and filling the hole with a bone graft or other material to give support. The bone graft helps your child’s bones join together while healing.
The replacement bone may come from a donor or your child’s own body. We work with a special bone bank to be sure bone grafts come from healthy donors and are carefully screened for diseases. Before surgery, your doctor will talk with you about the type of material we plan to use.
Other tumors require more complicated surgery. Surgeons may need to remove all or part of some spine bones and do reconstructive surgery to make the spine stable, such as:
- Replacing parts of the spine bones with bone grafts or other material.
- Joining the affected spine bones so they heal into a single, solid bone. This is called spinal fusion.
- Attaching a rod and screws or other instruments to help make your child’s spine stable and prevent a curve (scoliosis) or abnormal hunch (kyphosis) from developing in their back.
Usually surgery is done at our hospital’s main campus in Seattle. Sometimes small, noncancerous tumors are removed as an outpatient procedure.
Learn more about surgery to treat tumors at Seattle Children’s.
Recovery after surgery
Some children use a brace to protect their spine while they heal after surgery. But many children do not need a brace.
After surgery, your child will get help to improve their flexibility and mobility and return to their usual activities. Some children see a physical therapist (PT), who uses play and exercise to help build strength and coordination and reduce pain.
Depending on the tumor, some children may need adaptive equipment after surgery. Occupational therapists (OTs) help your child learn to use equipment or change how they do tasks of daily life, if needed.
Read more about our physical therapy and occupational therapy services.