Thoracic Back Pain and Cancer

Thoracic back pain is a commonly felt condition that occurs in the spinal area starting from the base of the neck down to the bottom of the rib cage area, just at the base of the chest. The reason behind this ache or discomfort is usually of benign origin.

However, in a few cases, the reason behind the back pain could be due to cancers, infections or fractures. A primary type of cancerous growth or secondary metastasis to the spine results in unremitting back pain which can worsen during the nights and wake the patient up from sleep. Spine cancer causes the bones to weaken leading to fractures or compression (pinching) of the nerves or instability. It is usually accompanied by systemic conditions including weight loss, fatigue or changed bowel habits and abnormal blood findings in the laboratory. Overlooking all the possible causes for back pain could result in serious consequences for the patient.

While back pain is one the commonest complaints heard by primary care physicians, there are some hallmark signs and symptoms that can help a doctor find out if there is a more sinister etiology behind it. A careful study of the patient’s history, physical examination and diagnostic tests including magnetic resonance imaging, are among the best ways to evaluate the presence of spine cancers. Unfortunately spine cancers can’t be visualized easily on x-rays unless significant destruction has already taken place.

The spine is a common site for metastatic cancers and around 90% of patients with spine cancer complain of constant, debilitating back pain which is persistent and progressive. A mass on the spine can result in spinal cord or nerve compression resulting in neurologic signs and symptoms mimicking stenosis or herniated discs. In some unfortunate cases, a spinal fracture resulting from destruction of the vertebra is the first and a late indication of a spine cancer.

Since most spine cancer cases are metastatic in origin, clinical examination of the lungs, breasts, thyroid, abdomen and prostate should be done. This should be followed by an examination of the spine for focal points of pain along with a neurological examination for abnormal reflexes. For patients with cancer anywhere else in the body, occurrence of pain in the back should be immediately evaluated for metastatic cancer of the spine. Primary cancers rarely occur in the spine and are more prevalent among younger adults.

For the best diagnosis and treatment options for such cases, do check with the Sita Bhateja Specialty hospital based in Bangalore as it has an expert team of doctors who are highly specialized in treating similar cases. Find out more about them at this site:

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