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Upper Spine News

Rare Disc Problem Masquerades as a Spinal Tumor

Low back pain from disc herniation in the lumbar vertebrae of the spine is a common problem in adults. This same problem in the mid-back (thoracic spine) is much more rare. In fact, only one percent of all disc herniations occur in the thoracic spine.

When it does happen, doctors may have a hard time making the diagnosis. MRIs (magnetic resonance images) are helpful but not fool proof. Sometimes the image looks like a tumor instead of disc material.

This was the case for a 54-year-old man treated at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He had a long history of leg weakness, numbness, and pain in his groin. His back problems started in 1992 after an injury at work. He reinjured himself in 1998 while shoveling dirt.

Based on the location of his symptoms and the results of an X-ray and MRI, the doctors thought he had a spinal tumor. When surgery was done, there was a herniated disc with cartilage in it instead of a tumor.

Case studies can be very helpful to doctors. This doctor reported gaining new information from studying the MRI after the surgery. In this case, the doctor saw some specific changes on the MRI. He concludes that looking for these changes will help with a correct diagnosis for future patients.


Bikash Bose, MD, FACS, FICS, FAHA. Thoracic Extruded Disc Mimicking Spinal Cord Tumor: Case Report. In The Spine Journal. January/February 2003. Vol. 3. No. 1. Pp. 82-86.

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*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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