Prompt treatment for spinal cord tumors is very important to help prevent nerve damage, spinal cord compression, or paralysis. The goal of treatment is to remove the tumor or relieve compression to preserve as much function as possible. Medications may be used to reduce swelling and prevent compression. Micro-laser surgery may be used to remove the tumor. Radiation therapy may be used with surgery, or in some cases, instead of surgery. Chemotherapy may be recommended in some cases, but overall, it has not proven to be effective against most spinal cord tumors.
Radiation therapy is a painless procedure. Your doctor will prescribe the amount and length of treatment based on your condition. Radiation therapy is usually delivered in several doses over a period of time. There are different types of radiation therapy that may be used to help treat spinal cord tumors.
External beam radiation uses high-energy beams to disrupt the growth of cancer cells. Radiation damages all cells both healthy and cancerous, in the exposed area. Radiated cancer cells are not able to repair themselves or replicate. Your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent the side effects of radiation.
State-of-the-art technology has advanced radiation methods to help make them more effective and tolerable. Three dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D CRT) maps a tumor with imaging scans before treatment. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to produce images of a tumor and its surrounding tissue. The images from the scans are combined with a computer called a multi-leaf collimator (MLC). The MLC produces a 3D image of the cancer and formulates a treatment plan specifically for the 3D image. This allows direct multiple beams of radiation to be targeted precisely at the tumor and spare as much healthy tissue as possible.
Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) and Stereotactic Radiotherapy (SRT) are both methods of delivering radiation therapy to spinal cord tumors. SRS or SRT may be used instead of or along with surgery. SRS involves a single radiation treatment. SRT uses a series of treatments over time. Both methods spare healthy tissues because the radiation precisely targets the cancer.
With SRS and SRT, sophisticated software controls the radiation treatment beams to match the exact shape of a tumor or lesion. The beams may be moved to penetrate the cancer from different angles. The state-of-the-art equipment is able to adjust for minor patient movements. This precision delivery method quickly allows the cancer to receive the full dose of radiation, while the surrounding healthy tissue only receives a small percentage of radiation. SRS and SRT are useful for treating tumors in delicate tissue areas, such as the brain and spinal cord.
The experience of cancer and cancer treatments can be an emotional process for people with cancer and their loved ones. It is important that you receive support from a positive source. Some people find comfort in their family, friends, co-workers, and faith. Cancer support groups are another good option. They can be a good source of information and support from people who understand what you are experiencing. Ask your doctor for cancer support group locations in your area.