Tumor Treatments

Tumor treatments are provided by experienced specialists and advanced therapies to treat all benign and malignant tumors of the spine and spinal cord.

The goal of tumor surgery is to remove all the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible. Northwestern Medicine specialists work with surgeons specializing in cancer biopsy and removal. They treat the most complex spinal tumors and perform extensive reconstructive procedures.

Types of tumors treated

Northwestern Medicine specializes in the treatment of benign and malignant tumors of the spinal cord and spine. Listed below are some of the tumors we commonly treat, including:

  • Aneurysmal bone cyst
  • Astrocytoma
  • Chordoma
  • Dermoid, Epidermoid, Teratoma
  • Ependymoma
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Hemangioma
  • Lipoma
  • Meningioma
  • Metastatic tumors (lymphoma, lung, breast, prostate)
  • Neurofibroma
  • Neuroma
  • Oligodendroglioma
  • Osteoblastoma
  • Osteoid osteoma
  • Primary lymphoma
  • Schwannoma
  • Vertebral hemangioma

Northwestern Medicine uses a comprehensive approach that incorporates the talents of specialists from various disciplines and makes use of leading-edge technology that is employed in the treatment of all benign and malignant tumors of the spine and spinal cord.

The surgical team uses advanced technology, including:

  • Stealth navigational instruments
  • Operative microscope
  • Sophisticated neurological monitoring
  • Complex spinal instruments
  • Intraoperative CT scanning

This enables the team to not only treat the most complex spinal tumors, but it also enables them to perform extensive reconstructive procedures.

If necessary, conventional external-beam radiotherapy is available. Medical oncologists provide protocol-driven chemotherapy for all malignant tumors, using state-of-the-art techniques.

Surgery for cancer

Surgery is used in several ways to help people with cancer. It provides the best chance to stop many types of cancer, and it also plays a part in diagnosing, staging, and supporting cancer treatment.

Type of surgery for cancer

Surgery may be the only treatment or it may be combined with other treatments. Cancer surgeries include: 

  • Curative surgery: Curative surgery removes the cancerous tumor or growth from the body. Surgeons use curative surgery when the cancerous tumor is limited to a specific area of the body. This type of treatment is often considered the primary treatment. Other types of cancer treatments such as radiation may be used before or after the surgery
  • Preventive surgery: Preventive surgery removes tissue that does not contain cancerous cells, but may develop into a malignant tumor. For example, polyps in the colon may be considered precancerous tissue and preventive surgery removes them
  • Diagnostic surgery: Diagnostic surgery helps to determine whether cells are cancerous. Diagnostic surgery removes a tissue sample, called a biopsy, for testing and evaluation in a laboratory by a pathologist. Tissue samples help confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer and determine the stage of the cancer
  • Staging surgery: Staging surgery determines the extent of cancer in the body. Laparoscopy is an example of a surgical staging procedure. A viewing tube with a lens or camera is inserted through a small incision to examine the inside of the body and to remove tissue samples
  • Debulking surgery: Debulking surgery removes a portion of a cancerous tumor. It is used when removing an entire tumor may cause damage to an organ or the body. Other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may be used after debulking surgery
  • Palliative surgery: Palliative surgery treats cancer at advanced stages. Its purpose is not to cure cancer but to relieve discomfort or to correct other problems cancer or cancer treatment may have created
  • Supportive surgery: Supportive surgery is similar to palliative surgery because it does not work to cure cancer. Instead, it helps other cancer treatments work more effectively. An example of supportive surgery is the insertion of a catheter to help with treatments and to draw blood instead of putting needles in the arm
  • Restorative surgery: Restorative surgery is sometimes used as a follow-up to curative or other surgeries to change or restore a person’s appearance or the function of a body part. For example, women with breast cancer sometimes need breast reconstruction surgery to restore the physical shape. Curative surgery for oral cancer can cause a change in the shape and appearance of a person’s mouth. Restorative surgery may correct these effects

Risks and potential side effects of cancer surgery

Risk is a part of any surgery. Though science and medical technology have made surgery a safe and reliable treatment option, there is always the risk of potential problems and side effects. In many cases the positive effects of surgery outweigh the risks. This is one of the reasons why learning about your cancer and cancer treatment is important. The more you know about surgery for cancer, the more informed your choices are. Be sure to discuss the following potential complications with your cancer care team before treatment.

Complications during surgery may include:

  • Damage to organs in the body
  • Blood loss
  • Adverse reactions to medication

Complications after surgery may include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Infections
  • Other illnesses, such as pneumonia
  • Blood loss or clots

Other types of tumor surgery

There are several specialized surgeries used during cancer treatment including:

  • Cryosurgery: This surgery technique uses extremely cold temperatures to kill cancer cells. Cryosurgery is used most often with skin cancer and cervical cancer. Depending on whether the tumor is inside or outside the body, liquid nitrogen is placed on the skin or in an instrument called a cryoprobe, which is inserted into the body where it touches the tumor. Cryosurgery is being evaluated as a surgical treatment for several types of cancers
  • Laser surgery: This technique uses highly focused beams of light energy instead of instruments to remove very small cancers without damaging surrounding tissue. It can also shrink or destroy tumors and activate drugs to kill cancer cells. Laser surgery is a very precise procedure that can treat areas of the body that are difficult to reach including the cervix, rectum and larynx
  • Electrosurgery: Skin cancer and oral cancer are sometimes treated with electrosurgery. This technique uses high frequency electrical current to kill cancer cells
  • Microscopically controlled surgery: This surgery is useful when cancer affects delicate parts of the body, such as the eye. Layers of skin are removed and examined microscopically until cancerous cells cannot be detected
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