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Tumor or tumour literally means "swelling", and is sometimes still used with that meaning. Tumor meaning swelling is one of the five classical characteristics of inflammation. However, the term is now primarily used to denote abnormal growth of tissue. This growth can be either malignant or benign. It is similar in meaning to a neoplasia.

A spinal tumor or spinal cord compression should be considered as possible causes of lower back pain in older patients and in those who have a history of cancer.


Tumors are caused by mutations in DNA of cells. An accumulation of mutations is needed for a tumor to emerge. Mutations that activate oncogenes or repress tumor supressor genes can eventually lead to tumors. Cells have mechanisms that repair DNA and other mechanisms that cause the cell to destroy itself by apoptosis if DNA damage gets too severe. Mutations that repress the genes for these mechanisms can also eventually lead to cancer. A mutation in one oncogen or one tumor repressor gene is usually not enough for a tumor to occur. A combination of a number of mutations is necessary.

Other causes include tobacco, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, radiation, genetic abnormalities, excessive sunlight exposure, benzene, and a number of other chemicals and toxins.


  • Back pain without a significant identifiable precipitant
  • Constitutional symptoms
  • Sensory or motor deficits that involve the spinal cord or cauda equina
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue


  • Spinous process tenderness
  • Sensory or motor deficit if the spinal cord or cauda equina is involved


Treatment also varies based on the type of tumor, whether it is benign or malignant, and its location. If the tumor is benign (meaning it has no potential to spread) and is located in a "safe" area where it will not cause symptoms or disturb the proper functioning of the organ, sometimes no treatment is needed. Sometimes benign tumors may be removed for cosmetic reasons, however. Benign tumors of the brain may be removed because of their location or harmful effect on the surrounding normal brain tissue.

If a tumor is malignant, treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these methods.


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