Complications and Outcomes after Spinal Cord Tumor Surgery

Spinal Cord Tumor Surgery

As per the American Society of Clinical Oncology, malignant brain or spinal tumor patients average survival rate is 36%. A spinal cord tumor is a severe disease that can cause permanent disability and even death. It grows slowly over weeks to years and can spread throughout the nervous system. That's why it is important to have detailed information on this deadly disease so that you and your loved ones can have a better treatment opportunity if anyone of you, unfortunately, has this disease. Thus, this article is written to provide you with the necessary information about spinal cord tumor surgery, its complications, and its outcomes.

Spinal Cord Tumor Surgery

The removal of abnormal growths or tumors that form in or around the spinal cord is done by a process known as spinal cord tumor surgery. This procedure aims to decrease spinal cord pressure, protect neurological function, and enhance the patient's quality of life. This surgical process includes the following steps:

  • Doctors give general anesthesia to the patient before beginning the treatment to ensure their comfort and awareness.
  • Depending on where the tumor is located, the surgeon makes an incision in the neck or the back.
  • The damaged portion of the spine is exposed after the surgeon carefully pushes the muscles and other tissues aside.
  • The surgeon carefully locates the tumor and plans the surgical strategy using imaging methods like MRI or CT scans.
  • The surgeon uses microsurgical methods to remove the tumor as much as possible with the least harm to the healthy spinal cord tissue.
  • Depending on how much of the tumor was removed, the surgeon may need to stabilize the spinal column by reconstructing it with metal plates, screws, or other devices.
  • The surgeon carefully seals the incision with sutures or staples once the tumor has been removed and the spinal column has been rebuilt.

Before transferring the patient to the regular hospital room, doctors monitor them attentively. To assist in their recovery, they could need painkillers, physical therapy, and other types of treatment.

Complications of Spinal Cord Tumor Surgery

Surgery to remove a spinal cord tumor is a complex and risky treatment that could result in any of the following complications:


There is a chance of bleeding during surgery, which can cause severe blood loss and necessitate blood transfusions.


There is a danger of infection with any surgical procedure, and spinal cord tumor surgery is no different. Fever, discomfort, and swelling at the surgery site are all signs of infection and may need further antibiotic treatment.

Neurological Effects

Surgery may cause neurological deficits like weakness, numbness, or paralysis, depending on the position and size of the tumor. Depending on the damage to the spinal cord, these symptoms could be either short-term or long-term.

Cerebrospinal Fluid Leakage

The cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and shields the spinal cord might leak. For example, accidentally piercing the dura, the membrane that covers the spinal cord, during surgery runs the risk of causing a cerebrospinal fluid leak. Headaches and other symptoms may result from this, and additional surgery may be necessary to correct it.

Spinal Instability

Removing a big spinal cord tumor may cause spinal instability, necessitating the implantation of metal devices to stabilize the spinal column.


Recurrence is possible even after a spinal cord tumor has been successfully removed, particularly if it is malignant. 

Other Complications

Blood clots, breathing issues, and complications due to anesthesia are additional issues that may arise after surgery to remove a spinal cord tumor. Therefore, it is essential to discuss the potential risks and benefits of spinal cord tumor surgery with a neurosurgeon and carefully consider all treatment options before deciding.

Outcomes of Spinal Cord Tumor Surgery

The results of a spinal cord tumor operation rely on several factors, including the tumor's size, location, and kind, the patient's age, general health, and the degree of neurological damage present before surgery. However, the following results may be anticipated generally:

 Quality of life

Improving the patient's quality of life is the main objective of spinal cord tumor surgery. A successful operation can help the patient live a better quality of life overall by reducing pain, enhancing mobility, and regaining function.

Tumor removal

Spinal cord tumor surgery aims to remove the maximum amount of the tumor while maintaining neurological function. In addition, successful tumor removal can lessen symptoms like pain, weakness, and sensory loss.

Neurological Recovery

The patient may experience neurological recovery if the operation to remove the spinal cord tumor successfully releases the pressure on the spinal cord. Improvements in motor function, sensation, and bladder or bowel control can all be a part of this.


There is a possibility of complications with every surgery, including bleeding, infection, and neurological abnormalities. Patients with larger or more complex tumors may have a higher risk of problems.

Follow-up care

Following surgery to remove a spinal cord tumor, the patient may need ongoing follow-up care, including imaging tests to check for tumor recurrence or new growth, as well as physical therapy to speed recovery and enhance function.

Before choosing a course of therapy, it's crucial to speak with a neurosurgeon about the possible effects and risks of surgically removing a spinal cord tumor and to weigh all available options carefully.

Final Thoughts

Spinal cord tumor surgery is a complex procedure that significantly benefits patients suffering from various types of spinal cord tumors. However, despite its potential to alleviate pain and improve neurological function, it carries inherent risks and complications, as with any surgical intervention. Understanding these complications, such as infection, bleeding, spinal cord or nerve damage, cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and postoperative pain, is crucial for patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Ultimately, the success of spinal cord tumor surgery depends on many factors, including the type, location, and size of the tumor and the surgeon's skill and expertise. Therefore, a multidisciplinary approach involving neurosurgeons, oncologists, and other medical professionals is essential to optimize patient care and manage potential complications.


What kinds of tumors in the spinal cord can be surgically removed? 

There are two primary categories of spinal cord tumors: extramedullary tumors, which develop outside the spinal cord, and intramedullary tumors, which develop inside the spinal cord. Meningiomas, schwannomas, and astrocytomas are the four most typical types of spinal cord tumors.

How long will it take for you to recover after spinal cord tumor surgery? 

The length of time needed to recover from spinal cord tumor surgery might vary depending on the nature of the procedure, the patient's age and general health, and the particular type of tumor. After surgery, patients often anticipate spending a few days to a week in the hospital and several weeks to months recovering at home. In addition, patients may require physical therapy and rehabilitation to help them restore their strength, mobility, and function.

What alternatives exist for the surgical removal of spinal cord tumors? 

Some spinal cord tumors can be reduced in size or have their growth controlled without surgery using non-surgical methods such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted medication therapy. Nevertheless, surgery is frequently necessary to remove the tumor and release the strain on the spinal cord. The precise type and location of the tumor, as well as the patient's general health and treatment objectives, will determine the appropriate treatment strategy.

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