Spinal tumours 

Although rare, several types of tumour can affect the spine. Spinal tumours that originate from the vertebra (bone), spinal cord or nerves are known as primary tumours. There are also tumours that spread to the spine from cancer starting elsewhere in the body; these are called secondary tumours or metastases. Spinal tumours can cause pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerves and depending on where the tumour is in your spine, different areas of your body can be affected.

Symptoms may include pain in the neck, upper or lower back and in your arms or legs. You can also experience numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms, legs, on your body or around your bottom. You can have difficulty with balance and/or difficulty in walking. Occasionally people can have problems with going to the toilet (controlling your bladder and/or bowel function).

Tests to diagnose a spinal tumour most typically include MRI and CT scans.

You may need to have surgery to remove the tumour, or as much of the tumour as possible. You may also have radiotherapy or chemotherapy after surgery or as the main treatment depending on the type of tumour. Your doctor may also give you steroids to help control any symptoms.

This content is produced by Macmillan Cancer Support and reproduced with permission.

Next review: 2018

  • Multidisciplinary Team Meeting (MDT)

    If your scans do show there is a tumour in your spine, your case will be discussed in the Spinal MDT. This is a meeting where experts from several different areas get together to discuss your case and review any imaging (MRI, CT, X-Rays) you may have had. The meeting is attended by consultant spinal neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, and oncologists, as well as expert nurses and therapists.

    At this meeting plans will be made about what may be the best type of treatment for your particular problem. Most commonly, you will then be seen in outpatients by one of the consultants to discuss the potential treatment options and to answer any questions that you have about your problem.

  • Therapy services for spinal tumours

    Depending on the area of the spine affected by the tumour, patients can have very different problems. For example, these might involve problems with movement, and sensation in your arms, legs and body.

    Spinal tumours can affect the messages getting from our brain to the rest of the body. This can cause problems with controlling movement in the arms, legs and trunk as well as problems with sensation or numbness. These difficulties can have an impact on how you move, or how independently you can do daily activities.

    If you experience difficulties in any of these areas during your treatment journey you may be seen by one, or more, of our specialist therapy services.

 Consultants

Dr Naomi Fersht, Consultant Clinical Oncologist

Dr Naomi Fersht

Dr Naomi Fersht coordinates care across brain tumour services at UCLH.

She is a consultant clinical oncologist at University College Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN). She specialises exclusively in the management of primary and secondary brain and spinal tumours. This involves the use of both conventional and innovative radiotherapy techniques and chemotherapy. 

Her special interests are: brain oligometastases; meningiomas; pituitary tumours; the management of teenagers and young adults with brain tumours (age 16-24); and advanced radiotherapy techniques including radiosurgery.

She qualified from the University of Cambridge and her specialist training was at the Royal Marsden and University College Hospitals. Naomi's doctoral thesis, supervised by Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse, was in cell cycle checkpoints.

Full consultant profile

Mr James Allibone, Consultant Neurosurgeon

Mr James Allibone

Mr Allibone is currently the lead clinician for complex spinal surgery. The service has a particular interest and expertise in spinal tumours and provides the surgical arm for The London Sarcoma and Primary Bone Tumour service. The tumour service also has links with The Royal Marsden, The Brompton and Mount Vernon Hospitals.

Mr Allibone is a member of The North American Spine Society and The British Association of Spinal Surgeons.

Full consultant profile

Prof Sebastian Brandner, Consultant Neuropathologist

Prof Sebastian Brandner

Sebastian Brandner is Professor of Neuropathology at UCL and Honorary Consultant Neuropathologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) at UCLH. He leads the Division of Neuropathology and is specialised in brain tumour diagnostics including molecular diagnostics, and neurodegeneration.

He has authored and co-authored research publications on brain tumour models, book chapters in major neuropathology textbooks, and the 2016 WHO classification as well as guidelines for the Royal College of Pathologists. He serves on the National Institute of clinical excellence (NICE) guideline committee to establish guidelines for management and treatment of primary brain tumours and cerebral metastases

The Division of Neuropathology receives brain tumour referrals from the NHNN, and several major regional hospitals. The Division also provides a molecular pathology service for referrers across the United Kingdom.

Full consultant profile

Mr Adrian Casey, Consultant Neurosurgeon

Mr Adrian Casey

Mr Adrian Casey qualified from Westminster Medical School (Imperial College) in 1985. His neurosurgery training was in Atkinson Morleys Hospital and the National hospital Queen Square, where he did his research with Alan Crockard  on the rheumatoid cervical spine.

His first consultant  appointment was to Charing Cross Neurosurgery Unit in 1997. He was subsequently appointed as the first spinal neurosurgeon in the UK to his current post at The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), Stanmore and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), Queen Square. This was a specially created post to bring together the two disciplines of spine surgery (Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery).

He is involved with most aspects of complex spine surgery. His job is divided between his two NHS posts at the NHNN and RNOH, Stanmore. He was involved in setting up Spinal Training for the European Association of Neurological Surgeons

Full consultant profile

Mr David Choi, Consultant Neurosurgeon

Mr David Choi

Mr David Choi trained in general surgery at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and underwent specialist neurosurgical training at the Glasgow Institute of Neurological Sciences, Atkinson Morley’s Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), London. He obtained a PhD in neuroregeneration, and was awarded the Hallett Prize medal from the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

His clinical interests include complex spine surgery, spinal tumours, spinal trauma, degenerative spinal conditions, skull base tumours, skull base endoscopy, and craniocervical junction surgery. He holds an academic post at the UCL  Institute of Neurology, and was awarded a prestigious research grant from the European Research Council in 2009.

Full consultant profile

Mr Vittorio Russo, Consultant Neurosurgeon

Mr Vittorio Russo

Mr. Vittorio Russo is a neurosurgeon with interest in complex spine surgery. He has a formal training in neurosurgery with two additional years of dedicated combined complex spine neurosurgery and orthopaedic spine fellowship training. Mr. Russo has also spent two years in the USA for his fellowship in neurosurgery and microsurgical neuroanatomy.

His clinical interests include complex spine surgery, spinal tumours, spinal traumas, degenerative conditions, cranio-cervical junction surgery, minimally invasive spinal surgery.

He is currently the lead clinician for the Acute Spinal Tumour service, including metastatic spinal cord compression (MSCC).

Full consultant profile

Dr Kai-Keen Shiu, Consultant Medical Oncologist

Dr Kai-Keen Shiu

Dr Kai-Keen Shiu is the clinical lead for the Cancer of Unknown Primary Service, and the Acute Oncology Service at UCLH. He is actively involved in gastrointestinal oncology clinical trial research. He also has a specialist interest in treating patients with cancer of unknown primary, their entry into clinical trials, and management of oligometastatic disease.

Dr Shiu is the Principal Investigator of the UCL / UCLH Gastrointestinal Cancer Translational Research Biobank. He is a chief investigator and principal investigator for a number of national and international trials. He also undertakes early phase clinical trials in the private sector.

Dr Suganya Sivabalasingham, Consultant Clinical Oncologist

Dr Suganya Sivabalasingham

Dr Elena Wilson, Consultant Clinical Oncologist

Dr Elena Wilson

Dr Elena Wilson is a consultant clinical oncologist.

Full consultant profile

 Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)

Eileen Andrews, Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Eileen Andrews

Eileen qualified as a nurse nearly 30 years ago. She has spent most of her career working in either neurosciences or oncology and her current role is a combination of these two specialist experiences. She has worked as a Macmillan nurse for over ten years and at the NHNN at Queen Square for the last three years.

Eileen works mainly with patients who are having radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy for the management a brain tumour. 

“I see my role as a constant point of contact and support for patients and their families in an often complex health care system.”

Michelle Hogan, CNS – Complex spine and endoscopic base of skull surgery

Michelle Hogan

Michelle has been a qualified nurse and worked at Queen Square for 15 years. She has extensive experience with patients with neurological and neurosurgical problems and has worked exclusively with neurosurgical spinal and base of skull patients for the past three years.

Michelle delivers comprehensive, expert nursing care and advice to patients undergoing complex spinal surgery and endoscopic base of skull procedures. She is particularly involved in the care of patients with base of skull cancers, and patients with a spinal cord injury. In addition, Michelle is heavily involved in teaching and advising other healthcare professional in the treatment of patients with complex spinal needs.

"My priority is to provide continuity to patients and their families throughout their treatment"

Jacqueline Mullane, Senior CNS - Complex Spine

Jacqueline Mullane

Jacqueline is an advanced nurse practitioner and has worked with spinal patients for the past 25 years, the last ten at Queen Square. She has extensive experience and expertise in caring for patients with a wide range of spinal conditions including spinal cord injury, spinal deformity, spinal infection, primary spinal tumours and metastatic spinal tumours.

Jacqueline is an integral member of the complex surgical spinal team and provides specialist care and support for patients with complicated spinal problems. She works mainly with patients undergoing emergency and elective spinal procedures and provides support to patients, their families and other health care professionals within the inpatient and outpatient settings.

"I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that my team and I provide the best possible care to my patients"