Cancer is a rare cause of back pain. To know if your back pain is cancer, your doctor will take your medical history and consider your symptoms. They will ask if someone in your family has or had back cancer or any other cancer.
Your doctor will first try to rule out other causes of back pain before arriving at the diagnosis of back cancer.
- They will first begin with treatments, such as physical therapy and pain medications, and check how well your back pain improves.
- If these treatments offer little to no pain relief, they will order blood tests and imaging tests such as X-rays, bone scans, or magnetic resonance imaging.
- These tests can let you and your doctor know if your back pain is due to cancer.
What are the symptoms of back pain due to cancer?
If cancer is causing your back pain, you may not find relief with conventional treatments administered to relieve back pain. Additionally, a visible lump may be seen in the back.
If the back pain is due to cancer, you may experience back pain that:
- Persists all day, independent of activities
- Intensifies during the night or after getting up in the morning
You may experience other symptoms, such as:
What are the causes of back pain?
Doctors will first try to find out if the following are the causes of your back pain:
- Back injury
- Osteoarthritis of the spine (spondylitis)
- Muscle or ligament strains
- Tuberculosis of the spine
- Improper posture
- Prolonged sitting
Uncommon causes of back pain
- Certain cancers:
- Side effects of chemotherapy or other cancer therapies: For example, a hormone therapy, Herceptin, used in the treatment of some breast cancers can cause back pain.
How is back pain treated if it is due to cancer?
After finding out the type of cancer responsible for your back pain, your doctor will decide the treatment based on the tumor’s type and location, as well as other serious health conditions that you have.
If you have a spinal tumor, your doctor may advise you to monitor the progression of your cancer or complete removal (resection) of the spinal tumor.
Your doctor will discuss the following treatment options with you:
- Pain medications:
- Corticosteroids: These may be administered if pain medications fail to provide relief from back pain. They can be administered to shrink the tumor.
- Chemotherapy drugs: Administered in the form of either injections or oral pills, chemotherapy drugs kill the cancer cells present throughout the body.
- Immunotherapy drugs: Immunotherapy involves using the immune system to attack cancer cells of the body. Some evidence shows its effectiveness in spinal tumors, but more research is needed to recommend it for widespread usage.
For rare tumors, such as spinal cancer, scientists continue to test newer medications and treatments through clinical experiments (trials). You can ask your doctor if you can get enrolled in one of these trials. They may recommend you one.
You may find some relief in back pain by trying simple home treatments, such as:
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Spinal Tumors. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Spinal-Tumors
Verhagen AP, Downie A, Popal N, et al. Red flags presented in current low back pain guidelines: a review. Eur Spine J. 2016 Sep;25(9):2788-802. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4684-0.
Downie A, Williams CM, Henschke N, et al. Red flags to screen for malignancy and fracture in patients with low back pain: systematic review. BMJ. 2013 Dec 11;347:f7095. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f7095. Erratum in: BMJ. 2014;348:g7.
Top How Do I Know If Back Pain Is Cancer Related Articles
Back Pain: Common Spine ProblemsThat stack of little bones along the center of your back has a key role to support and control your body. What happens when something's not right with your spine?
Back Pain: A Visual Guide to Herniated DisksHave you felt pain shooting down your leg from your lower back or rear end? It may be that one of the disks that separate the bones of your spine is pushing on a nerve. Learn what causes it and how to manage it.
Back Pain QuizThere are numerous causes of chronic lower back pain and only one ailment gets more complaints. What is it? Quiz your knowledge of symptoms, treatments, problems, and reasons for common back pain.
Can a Kidney Infection Cause Back Pain?Many people are affected by lower back pain. Learn how to tell if lower back pain is due to a kidney infection or the result of other causes.
Low Back Pain ExercisesOne of the best low back pain treatments is exercise. Learn more about low back pain exercises--what works, and what doesn't. Discover severe low back pain relief through various gentle workouts designed to protect and strengthen the lumbar, core, and other related muscle groups.
How Do I Know if My Back Pain Is Kidney Related?The pain of kidney infection may be felt on the sides (flanks) and the back. Unlike the classical back pain due to muscle or bone involvement, which typically affects the lower back, kidney pain is felt higher up and at a greater depth.
How Do I Know if My Upper Back Pain Is Serious?If you have upper and middle back pain without any other symptoms, then probably you will be able to manage your symptoms at home. Your back pain may indicate a severe underlying medical condition if you have intense pain, numbness, tingling, fever, weight loss and other symptoms.
Is Back Pain Constant With Pancreatic Cancer?Pancreatic cancer is cancer that begins in the tissues of the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Pancreatic cancer occurs when the healthy pancreatic cells grow out of control, forming a tumor.
Is Pancreatic Cancer Back Pain Constant?Cancer of the the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer. Pain in the upper abdomen and back is commonly seen in those who have pancreatic cancer. The back pain is generally not constant.
Kidney Pain vs. Back PainThe signs and symptoms of kidney pain and back pain depend upon the underlying cause. Doctors may use blood tests, X-rays, CT, and/or MRI to diagnose kidney pain and back pain. Treatment may include rest, ice, stretching, muscle strengthening, and pain-relieving medications.
Low Back Pain (Lumbar Spine Pain)There are many causes of back pain. Pain in the low back can relate to the bony lumbar spine, discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, muscles of the low back, internal organs of the pelvis and abdomen, and the skin covering the lumbar area.
Low Back Pain ReliefDo you suffer from low back pain? Learn more about common triggers of lower back pain like posture, exercise, and spondylosis. Find out about pain relief treatments like massage, yoga, stretching, exercises for back pain, and chiropractic medicine. See when surgery for back pain makes sense.
What Does Pancreatic Cancer Back Pain Feel Like?Pancreatic cancer is hard to be recognized in its earlier stages as its signs and symptoms may resemble vague gastrointestinal complaints. Pain in the abdomen or back is its common symptom. It is mostly intermittent initially, that is, it comes and goes. But with time, it becomes more frequent.
What Is the Best Exercise for Lower Back Pain?Lower back pain is a common health problem that can benefit from daily stretching. Here are the seven best exercises for low back pain.
Which Exercises to Avoid With Lower Back Pain?Doctors recommend strengthening exercises to help relieve low back pain, however, here are eight workouts to avoid potentially worsening your chronic pain.