“Both herniated disc and tumors can present with symptoms that are consistent with the nerve compression,” says Charles Park, MD, Director of The Minimally Invasive Brain and Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
“However, the pain from herniated disc gets better with rest, but the pain from tumor may get worse at night, laying down,” adds Dr. Park, a neurosurgeon.
Will the pain from a tumor subside, however, with daytime rest, as in resting in a recliner chair?
Dr. Park says, “Usually, pain from tumor does not get better with daytime rest.” However, he adds that heat, ice, ultrasound and massage will yield temporary relief of pain.
What symptom description might a patient tell a neurosurgeon/spine surgeon that would make the surgeon suspect a tumor vs. a herniated disk?
“The most important is the pain that doesn’t get better with rest at night.” says Dr. Park.
When a Doctor Suspects Cancer
When doctors are presented with a patient complaining of pain that seems to be from a herniated disc, the doctor doesn’t automatically suspect cancer unless the patient reports it does not respond to rest and gets worse at night.
“The spinal tumor is much less frequent than the disc problems,” says Dr. Park. “But when we order MRI for disc problems, the tumor will be visible as well, if present.”