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Spinal Schwannomas

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Diagnosing and Treating Spinal Schwannomas

A doctor will begin with a thorough history of the patient and physical exam. If a doctor believes a spinal tumor may be present, the following tests may be ordered:

X-ray: an x-ray can show which area of the spine has been affected

Computerized tomography (CT) is a noninvasive procedure that uses x-rays to produce a three-dimensional image of the spine. A CT shows more detail than an X-ray, and can identify the bones in greater detail, and show the nerves, spinal cord, and any possible damage to them.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio-frequency waves to create an image of the spine, and can reveal fine details of the spine, including tumors, nerves, and other details. An MRI scan can show details in the spine that can’t normally be seen on an x-ray. Sometimes a contrast agent is injected into a vein in the hand or arm during the test, which highlights certain tissues and structures to make details even clearer.

Treatment Options

Many schwannomas can be removed with minimally invasive surgically. However, this is dependent upon the age, overall physical health of the patient, and the size and location of the tumor.  In the vast majority of spinal schwannomas, the tumors can be entirely removed without causing neurological problems.

Some treatment options include:

Surgery: Removal of the schwannoma via surgery may be the best option to not only remove the growth but also relieve pressure on the spine and nerves that it is causing. Surgery often occurs in conjunction with radiation therapy. (See Surgery for Spinal Schwannomas.)

Monitoring: Sometimes the schwannoma has no symptoms, and is discovered when being seen for another condition. If the tumor has been deemed non-cancerous, is not growing, or posing any threat to surrounding nerves or tissue, or if the patient is older and surgery is a risk, then monitoring may be the treatment of choice.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS):

Neurological surgeons can use stereotactic radiosurgery (highly targeted radiation beams from multiple angles) to treat schwannomas in cases where surgery or complete surgical resection is not an option.

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Reviewed by: Eric Elowitz, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2020