Chordomas are a type of sarcoma, which include cancers in connective tissues, muscles, cartilage, and bones. A chordoma forms from the embryonic remnants for vertebrate development, and these tumors generally form at the base of the skull, the base of the spine, and the tailbone.
Because chordomas are incredibly rare and slow-growing, they are sometimes mistakenly considered to be benign. However, chordomas are malignant since they can reoccur and metastasize, often to the bone and dermis. These tumors mainly develop in adults between the ages of forty and seventy. People with an “A version” of the brachyury gene, or the “T gene,” are also more likely to develop chordoma.
Patients with chordoma may have back pain, headaches, numbness, impotence, incontinence, vision problems, weak legs, and changes in bowel habits.
Chroma begins in babies while they’re still in the womb. The notochord, a thin bar running along the back of a fetus, supports the end of the spine in the womb. Before birth it disappears. However, there are some people who have some of the cells from their notochord left behind after it disappears. This leaves some of its cells in the skull and spine. Chroma begins when there is a change in the baby’s gene that instructs the body in how to create the protein that assists in spine formation. When that gene malfunctions, the notochord cells that were left behind begin to divide too rapidly in the spinal cord or brain. There is no way to predict that this gene change will occur. It appears to be a random mutation. In rare cases, it has been found to run in families. However, anyone can get it even if no one in their families has had it.
In many cases, surgery will be needed to remove the tumor—or as much of it as possible without further injury. Radiation therapy is often used after the surgery to kill microscopic cells that could cause cancer recurrence. Radiation therapy is also helpful if the entire tumor was unable to be removed. Chemotherapy can also be used to treat chordoma—especially those that have metastasized.
If a tumor is at the base of the skull, an endoscopic endonasal approach (EEA) can be used. During EEA, a doctor will reach a chordoma by operating through the sinuses and nose.
At today’s level of medical understanding, there is no known way to prevent chroma from occurring. While there is a genetic component, it is too irregular to be able to predict which babies will have a higher chance of developing this condition. Because the condition can take many years to produce symptoms in the patient, regular medical checkups are recommended, especially for those who have this disorder in their families. Pain, discomfort, problems with vision and diminished hearing should all be checked out to prevent this condition from getting worse and spreading to other areas of the body.
There are no lifestyle, dietary or environmental risk factors that are known to impact a patient’s chances of developing this condition. Getting regular medical checkups and treating the occurrence is the only way to prevent the condition from growing into the organs, bones and tissues.