What Are the Symptoms of Chordoma?

Reviewed on 1/27/2021

What Is Chordoma?

Pain, tingling and numbness are all early signs of chordoma, located depending on where the spinal cord tumor is growing.
Pain, tingling and numbness are all early signs of chordoma, located depending on where the spinal cord tumor is growing.

Chordoma (notochordal sarcoma) is a slow growing cancer that can occur on tissue within the spine or the base of the skull. Chordoma frequently occurs near the tailbone (sacral tumor) or the base of the skull (clival tumor). 

Chordoma tumors are usually slow growing. However, chordomas can become life threatening if they spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body or can cause disability if they grow large and press on critical parts of the brain. 

Chordoma is typically diagnosed in adults in their 50s and 60s.

What Are Symptoms of Chordoma?

Chordomas grow very slowly and people may not have symptoms for many years. When symptoms do occur, they are often due to the tumor pressing on the spine, brain, and nerves and can include: 

  • Pain and nerve problems specific to the part of the brain or spinal cord where tumors are located
    • Tingling
    • Numbness
    • Weakness
    • Loss of bladder or bowel control
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Vision problems/double vision
    • Headaches
    • Endocrine problems
    • Swallowing difficulties
  • Large chordomas may feel like a lump

What Causes Chordoma?

Chordomas arise from cells left over from the development of the spine before birth (notochord cells). When these notochord cells don’t go away after birth, they can develop into chordomas.

In rare cases, many members of the same family may develop chordoma though it is not usually passed on from parent to child. 

How Is Chordoma Diagnosed?

Chordoma is diagnosed with a physical examination and patient history, along with tests such as: 

What Is the Treatment for Chordoma?

Treatment for chordomas involves one or more of the following: 

  • Surgery
    • When possible, the tumor is removed surgically
    • En bloc resection, which is a complete removal of the entire tumor, including any surrounding tissue where cancerous cells may have invaded
  • Radiation therapy
    • May be used along with surgery
  • Immunotherapy 

Chordomas are very likely to regrow, so follow-up care is important. Patients are usually advised to get regular MRIs to ensure the tumor has not returned.

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Reviewed on 1/27/2021
References
https://www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-bone-tumors/chordoma

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/chordoma