Symptoms of Chordoma

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Chordomas are rare, cancerous bone tumors found along the spine or the base of the skull. Chordomas typically grow slowly, and put pressure on nearby bones, soft tissue, and nerves. This leads to symptoms like pain, headaches, numbness, weakness, and vision problems. The exact symptoms that chordomas cause will vary depending on the size and location of the tumor.

This article discusses the symptoms associated with different types of chordomas, and provides guidance on when to speak with a physician.

Radiologist examines spine x-ray

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Frequent Symptoms

Because chordomas are slow-growing, symptoms may not appear for months or years. As they become larger and start to press on surrounding nerves, pain and certain neurological symptoms (symptoms that affect the brain, spine, and nerves) will become more noticeable.

If a chordoma grows large enough, it may be possible to physically feel or see the tumor, which looks like a lump under the skin.

Common chordoma symptoms can vary from person to person, based on how big the tumor is and exactly where it’s located.

Skull Base Chordomas

Chordomas located on what's known as the skull base (the place where the top of the spine meets the lower portion of the skull) tend to present with symptoms that are localized from the neck up. These chordomas affect nerves that control movement of the face, eyes, and throat.

Frequent symptoms include:

  • Neck or facial pain
  • Double vision
  • Headaches
  • Tingling or numbness in the face
  • Paralysis of facial muscles (weakness or drooping of muscles in the face)
  • Changes in speech
  • Difficulty swallowing

Sacral and Spinal Chordomas

Chordomas on the sacral area (located at the bottom of the spine near the tailbone) and on the rest of the spine usually have slightly different symptoms. They typically affect the lower half of the body.

These symptoms can include:

  • Tailbone, back, or groin pain
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the limbs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • A lump on the lower back area

Rare Symptoms

There are less common symptoms associated with chordomas, including:

  • Bleeding from the voice box or throat (known as laryngeal bleeding)
  • Nosebleeds
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory disturbances

Complications

Chordoma is a serious condition, and there are potential complications depending on the individual case, including the time to diagnosis and treatment.

Some possible complications of chordoma include:

  • Recurring chordomas: Recurring chordomas are chordomas that return or come back after treatment, like surgery and radiation. Chordomas can return in the same location or in different areas of the body.
  • Metastasis: Because chordomas are cancerous, these tumors can grow into or invade nearby areas and spread to other parts of the body, most commonly the lungs, liver, bones, and skin. This is known as metastasis. When chordomas metastasize, they can become life-threatening.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus: Sometimes a chordoma that's located on the base of the skull can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (fluid typically found in the spinal cord and brain). This dangerous condition causes fluid to build up in the skull and puts pressure on the brain.

When to See a Doctor

Because chordomas grow very slowly, they may start with subtle symptoms, or it may take years for any noticeable symptoms to appear. Some people feel a lump along their spine or at the base of the skull, while others may feel pain or pressure in nearby parts of the body that are affected by the growing chordoma.

If you start to experience any of the following symptoms, meet with your physician to discuss it:

  • Back pain that doesn't go away
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms, legs, buttocks, or groin area
  • Headaches and double vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty walking or moving your hands
  • Sudden bowel or bladder problems
  • A visible lump on the spine or tailbone

Similar Condition Symptoms

Symptoms of chordoma can look a lot like the symptoms of another type of bone tumor called a chondrosarcoma. This is why it’s essential to see a physician as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis.

Summary

Chordomas are rare, slow-growing cancerous bone tumors that cause headaches, pain, and nerve issues. These symptoms will vary based on the size of the chordoma and where it is located along the spine or base of the skull. Chordomas are serious tumors and should be discussed with your physician as soon as you notice symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Each person’s chordoma symptoms will likely look a little different. It's important to check with a physician as soon as possible if you think you might be experiencing any of the signs of chordoma, whether rare or common. Chordomas are best managed and treated when they're diagnosed quickly to help avoid any permanent damage or potentially life-threatening complications.

Remember that chordomas are very rare, occurring in about 1 out of every 1 million people. But it's better to be safe than sorry when investigating symptoms of potential tumors.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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