ANATOMY OF THE SPINE
The human spine is formed by individual vertebrae and connective tissue discs in between. The vertebrae form the spinal canal. There are seven cervical, twelve thoracic, and five lumbar vertebrae. The intervertebral discs are the link between the individual vertebral bodies.
Normal anatomy of the spine. Longitudinal section and cross sections through the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
The little joints that link the vertebrae together are known as facet joints. They help to stabilize the spine and, together with the intervertebral discs, allow a certain degree of mobility of the spinal cord. The spinal canal should be wide enough to allow nerve roots to float freely in cerebrospinal fluid.
The front border of the spinal canal is built by the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs, the side by the intervertebral joints (facets) and back by the ligamentum flavum (yellow band) and vertebral arches. Discs consist of an outer fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus), which surrounds an inner gel-like center (nucleus pulposus).
The spinal cord and nerve roots lie within the spinal canal. The spinal cord extends downwards approx. to the 1st lumbar vertebra. Below, only nerve roots are present in the spinal canal. At the level of the intervertebral disc the nerve roots pass through the neural root foramina to exit the spinal canal. The spinal cord and nerve roots conduct electric-like signals from the skin and joints to the brain, and process of movement is initiated from the brain to the muscles.
Astrocytomas are the most common spinal cord tumors (40-45% in adults and 75-90% in children). In the spinal cord Astrocytomas appear most often in the chest compartment. Often Astrocytomas are malignant, difficult to remove, and almost always reapear after surgery.
CAUSE OF SYMPTOMS
Gradually progressing infiltration and destruction of the spinal cord
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS
Severe back pain
Pain, numbness and weakness in the limbs
Unsteady gait (especially in dark rooms)
Stiffness, numbness and weakness of the hands and legs
Retention, or unintended urinary incontinence
Numbness of the genitals and loss of sexual function
THE DIAGNOSIS IS BASED ON Medical history Clinical exam Computer tomography Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Usually treatment is surgical
Non-surgical treatment may include Radiation therapy Chemotherapy Corticosteroids Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF SURGERY?
Complete tumor removal
Obtaining material for histological examination
To release the compressed nerve roots and/or spinal cord
To preserve the protective function of the spine
HOW IS SURGERY PERFORMED?
The choice of surgery depends on the localization and size of the tumor
WHICH OTHER DISEASES SHOULD BE EXCLUDED (DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS)? Another spine tumor
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