Diagnostic imaging of solitary tumors of the spine: what to do and say

Radiographics. 2008 Jul-Aug;28(4):1019-41. doi: 10.1148/rg.284075156.


Metastatic disease, myeloma, and lymphoma are the most common malignant spinal tumors. Hemangioma is the most common benign tumor of the spine. Other primary osseous lesions of the spine are more unusual but may exhibit characteristic imaging features that can help the radiologist develop a differential diagnosis. Radiologic evaluation of a patient who presents with osseous vertebral lesions often includes radiography, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Because of the complex anatomy of the vertebrae, CT is more useful than conventional radiography for evaluating lesion location and analyzing bone destruction and condensation. The diagnosis of spinal tumors is based on patient age, topographic features of the tumor, and lesion pattern as seen at CT and MR imaging. A systematic approach is useful for recognizing tumors of the spine with characteristic features such as bone island, osteoid osteoma, osteochondroma, chondrosarcoma, vertebral angioma, and aneurysmal bone cyst. In the remaining cases, the differential diagnosis may include other primary spinal tumors, vertebral metastases and major nontumoral lesions simulating a vertebral tumor, Paget disease, spondylitis, echinococcal infection, and aseptic osteitis. In many cases, vertebral biopsy is warranted to guide treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Solitary Fibrous Tumors / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*