What is Chordoma?
Chordoma is a rare type of bone cancer that occurs along the spine or skull. These tumors tend to be slow-growing and can spread into surrounding bone and soft tissue. Only about 300 people a year in the U.S. receive a diagnosis for this type of sarcoma (cancer that affects bones or connective tissue). About half of cases involve the sacrum bone at the base of the spine near the pelvis. When the tumor is removed completely by surgery, patients can recover fully, but must be closely monitored for recurrences.
Causes of Chordoma
Chordoma forms from remnants of notochord cells that develop into the spine when a fetus is about eight weeks old. A change in the TBTX gene that carries instructions for making the protein that helps form the spine is thought to trigger the leftover cells to divide too quickly and form the tumor.
Signs of Chordoma
The areas where this tumor develops usually contains important nerves, and symptoms will likely surface as the tumor presses on those nerves. A tumor on the spine could cause pain, weakness, tingling, numbness, and bladder dysfunction. Vision problems, headaches, neck pain, and trouble swallowing are possible symptoms of a tumor near the base of the skull. A tumor near the brain could block the flow of fluid, causing pressure on the brain.
An MRI can help determine if there are any other tumors, but a tissue sample will be needed to diagnose chordoma. A biopsy can typically be conducted on a tumor on the spine. Your medical team will analyze the cells from the tumor. A CT scan or bone scan may be performed to see if the cancer has spread and to develop treatment strategies.
Surgery is typically the best option for chordoma. Your UTHealth Neurosciences neurosurgeon will discuss the benefits of removing a spinal tumor completely and in one piece, as well as the potential risks of nerve damage. If the tumor is near the base of the skull, multiple minimally invasive procedures might be used to remove the tumor. High levels of radiation, particularly proton therapy, may be used to continue treatment after surgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery may be an option to deliver a high, targeted dose of radiation with lower risk to brain tissue.
Chordoma has high instances of recurrence, often in the same location, so your medical team will closely monitor your health for regrowth and possible spread following the initial treatment.
At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.