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Metastatic spine cancer is a condition where cancerous cells that developed elsewhere in the body travel through the bloodstream or the body's lymphatic system and settle into the bone marrow of the vertebrae, forming tumors.
Cancerous tumors based in other organs, such as the lungs, breast, and liver, can also grow into and even through the spine.
Most metastatic spine cancer occurs in the thoracic region of the spine, but it can also develop in the lumbar and cervical regions.
Metastatic spine cancer almost always involves just the bone, though rarely it can involve the soft tissue of the spine.
Often, metastatic spine tumors involve more than one vertebra of the spine.
Tumors growing within the vertebrae can make the spinal bones weak, causing them to break and collapse, a condition called a compression fracture. This type of fracture usually causes sudden back pain, as well as pain that is sensitive to touch over the site of the fracture.
These fractures, as well as the tumors themselves, can compress nerves in and around the spine, causing pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness that can radiate through the arms or legs, called a radiculopathy.
Depending on the location and size of the tumor, other neurological symptoms can include loss of bowel or bladder control and paralysis in the portion of the body below the tumor.
Anyone with active cancer or a history of cancer should see a medical professional about any sudden onset of back pain or related neurological symptoms.