By Dr Tony Setiobudi BMedSci, MBBS, MRCS, MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho)
Actor Dan Haggerty passed away from his long battle with spine cancer in Jan 2016.
Spine cancer rarely begins in the spine itself but instead is spread to the spine from other part of the body. Spread of cancer cells to the spine is common. The spine is the third most common site for cancer cells to spread after the lung and the liver. When the spine cancer compresses the spinal cord (major nerve in the spine), the neurological function can deteriorate very rapidly resulting in paralysis.
Spine cancer more commonly occurs in people older than 40 years of age. Pain in the back and neck are the most common signs of spine cancer. Not to alarm you, but if you are above 40 and complain of back pain or neck pain that does not seem to go away, spine cancer is something you should consider getting checked for.
In spine cancer, paralysis does not occur suddenly but it can develop rapidly over few days or weeks. There are other signs and symptoms preceeding paralysis that you should look out for including:
- Numbness, tingling in the arms and legs
- Loss of hand coordination
- Problems balancing and walking
- Issues with bowel and bladder control.
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Pain that is worse at night or when resting.
If you have any of these symptoms, you need see a doctor to get it checked.
When spine cancer and spinal cord compression are detected, operation to remove the spine cancer and to free up the spinal cord should be done as early as possible within 48 hours to give better outcomes according to an article published by Quraishi in European Spine Journal.
Do not wait until the neurological function is badly compromised before getting treatment. Some cancer progresses very rapidly, some slowly. Early diagnosis and treatment including surgery give much better chance of survival, faster recovery and better outcomes. When the signs and symptoms above are ignored, the cancer may be found in much worse state. Once paralysis occurs, the chance of recovery with surgery drops very significantly.
Dr Tony Setiobudi is an Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (Orchard), Singapore. He treats bone, joint, muscle and ligament problems in adults and children. He has a special interest in nerve compression and spine problems such as back & neck pain, scoliosis, kyphosis, spine tumor & infection, spinal cord injury, osteoporosis fracture, spinal stenosis and slipped disc.