Imaging of spinal chordoma and benign notochordal cell tumor (BNCT) with radiologic pathologic correlation

Skeletal Radiol. 2023 Mar;52(3):349-363. doi: 10.1007/s00256-022-04158-7. Epub 2022 Sep 5.


Benign notochordal cell tumor (BNCT) and chordoma are neoplasms of notochordal differentiation. BNCT represents notochordal rests, commonly an incidental lesion present in the spine in 19% of cadaveric specimens. BNCTs are often radiographically occult. CT of BNCT frequently reveals patchy sclerosis between areas of maintained underlying trabeculae. BNCT demonstrates marrow replacement on T1-weighted MR images with high signal intensity on T2-weighting. BNCTs are frequently smaller than 35 mm and lack significant enhancement, bone destruction, cortical permeation, or soft tissue components. Biopsy or surgical resection of BNCT is usually not warranted, although imaging surveillance may be indicated. Chordoma is a rare low-grade locally aggressive malignancy representing 1-4% of primary malignant bone tumors. Chordoma is most frequent between the ages of 50-60 years with a male predilection. Clinical symptoms, while nonspecific and location dependent, include back pain, numbness, myelopathy, and bowel/bladder incontinence. Unfortunately, lesions are often large at presentation owing to diagnosis delay. Imaging of chordoma shows variable mixtures of bone destruction and sclerosis, calcification (50-70% at CT) and large soft tissue components. MR imaging of chordoma reveals multilobulated areas of marrow replacement on T1-weighting and high signal intensity on T2-weighting reflecting the myxoid component within the lesion and areas of hemorrhage seen histologically. Treatment of chordoma is primarily surgical with prognosis related to resection extent. Unfortunately, complete resection is often not possible (21-75%) resulting in high local recurrence incidence (19-75%) and a 5-year survival rate of 45-86%. This article reviews and illustrates the clinical characteristics, pathologic features, imaging appearance spectrum, treatment, and prognosis of BNCT and spinal chordoma.

Keywords: Benign notochordal cell tumor; Chordoma; WHO classification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Chordoma* / diagnostic imaging
  • Chordoma* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sclerosis
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms*
  • Spinal Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Neoplasms* / surgery