Diagnosing chordoma is not always easy. It can be confused with other types of tumors. Getting the correct diagnosis from the start is critical to being able to find and choose the best treatment.
If you have had an MRI and been given a probable or The process of distinguishing a particular disease from others that share similar signs or symptoms. of chordoma, it is very important to find doctors who have experience diagnosing and treating chordoma patients to confirm the diagnosis. If you have had a A procedure that uses a needle to remove a small tissue sample from the tumor to be tested in order to make a diagnosis. and chordoma is confirmed, or if you have received a chordoma diagnosis following surgery, it is important for your case to be evaluated by a Treatment that involves a team of physicians from various disciplines. In the case of chordoma, these disciplines include sarcoma or bone pathology, radiology, spine surgery or skull base surgery, otolaryngology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, and palliative care. of chordoma experts who can talk with you about what next steps you should take.
Once you have been given a diagnosis, it can be helpful to get a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis before making treatment decisions. As with any rare cancer, second and even third opinions are an important and reasonable step to take.
Have you been recently diagnosed?
Our Facing a new diagnosis page lists the next steps you can take to get the best possible care.
It is important to go to a hospital, treatment center, or network of treatment centers where doctors have experience diagnosing and treating chordoma as soon as chordoma is suspected. You should avoid having a biopsy or surgery to confirm the diagnosis of chordoma outside of a A hospital, treatment center, or network of treatment centers where doctors have expertise in particular diseases. because, if not done properly, these procedures can cause the chordoma to spread.
What are the signs and symptoms of chordoma?
The most common signs of chordoma are pain and neurological changes.
The bones at the bottom part of the skull that separate the brain from other structures. The clivus is one of the bones of the skull base. chordomas most often cause headache, neck pain, or double vision. If large enough, they may affect facial sensation or movement, voice, speech, and swallowing function.
Chordomas of the spine and The five vertebrae at the base of the spine near the pelvis, and between the two hip bones. These bones are commonly referred to as S1-S5. can cause changes in bowel and/or bladder function, pain, aching, tingling, numbness, or weakness of the arms and legs. Often, sacral chordomas do not cause symptoms until the tumor is quite large, and sometimes a lump is the first sign of a sacral chordoma.
Could my tumor be something else?
Chordoma can be confused with other Tumors that do not invade and destroy nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body. and cancerous tumors, including:
- Benign The tissue in a fetus that acts as the building blocks for the spine. The notochord disappears when the fetus is about 8 weeks old, but some notochord cells are left behind in the bones of the skull and spine. cell tumors (BNCT) – These benign spine tumors can be seen on an MRI or CT scan and can sometimes look like chordoma. However, BNCT stay confined within the bone and do not spread into other tissues like chordomas can. If you have a suspected BNCT, you should have an MRI or CT scan from time to time to look for changes. Images should be reviewed by a radiologist with expertise in bone tumors.
- Malignant tumors of cartilage cells that occur in or near the bones. – This type of bone cancer looks very similar to chordoma on CT and MRI. A specific type of MRI called A type of MRI which can help doctors tell the difference between chordoma and chondrosarcoma, in order to make a correct diagnosis., or D-MRI, may help doctors tell the difference. Sometimes it is only possible to know a tumor is not chondrosarcoma after having a biopsy. Skull base chondrosarcomas usually respond better to radiation than skull base chordomas and have a better A term used for a doctor’s prediction of how a patient’s disease will progress..
- Ecchordosis physaliphora (EP) – A benign, congenital tumor that forms from notochordal remnants and can be found anywhere along the spine. Like BNCTs, they can sometimes look like chordoma but they do not usually spread into other tissues like chordomas can.
- Giant cell tumor of the bone (GCTB) – These tumors look somewhat different on imaging tests than chordoma and tend to be located in the upper part of the sacrum.
- Schwannoma – These tumors damage the bone differently than chordomas do, look different on imaging tests, and do not spread to nearby muscles or joints.
- Other tumors of the spine and skull base – These include other bone cancers such as Ewing Cancer of bone and connective tissue such as cartilage, fat, muscle, and blood vessels. Chordoma is a type of sarcoma. and osteosarcoma, as well as a type of nervous system tumor called a myxopapillary ependymoma. Lymphoma, a cancer of the body’s immune system, and multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, can also cause tumors in these areas.
- When tumors have spread to other parts of the body from the original tumor site. (spread) of another cancer – Sometimes cancers in other places in the body can spread to the bones of the spine or skull base.
If you or someone you love might have chordoma, Chordoma Foundation Patient Navigators are here to help you get the best care possible. Our Patient Navigators are available by email and phone, Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM EST.
How is chordoma diagnosed?
Any biopsy or surgery to confirm the diagnosis of chordoma should be done at a center with expertise in chordoma treatment. If not done properly, these procedures can cause the chordoma to spread. If you cannot travel to see a doctor who has experience with chordoma, have your imaging tests sent to a doctor with chordoma experience for a second opinion before you get treatment or a biopsy.
Chordoma tumors are typically detected through imaging tests, which show organs and other structures inside the body, including tumors. The way the tumor looks on imaging tests can tell a radiologist whether it might be chordoma.
Types of imaging tests
When a chordoma is suspected, you will need A type of imaging scan that is used initially to help diagnose chordoma, as well as during follow up to check for recurrence or metastasis., also called MRI, to help doctors make a diagnosis and plan for treatment. An MRI is the best way to see a chordoma and how it is affecting the tissue around it, such as muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. No matter where the tumor is located, an MRI of the entire spine should be performed to see if the tumor may have spread to or developed in other areas of the spine. Chordoma is best seen on an MRI with a setting called T2 weighted imaging.
Another imaging test called A type of imaging scan that is used to help diagnose chordoma and can also be used to help guide the needle during a biopsy. They are also referred to as CT scans or “CAT” scans., also called CT or CAT scan, is recommended in addition to MRI if it is not certain whether the tumor is chordoma. CT scans of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis are recommended to make sure there is no spread of tumor. Imaging tests should be interpreted by a radiologist who has experience diagnosing bone tumors.
In some cases doctors may order a positron emission tomography, or PET, scan. These are usually whole-body scans that look for widespread tumor activity. PET scans provide information about your body’s metabolic function; for cancer specifically, PET scans pick up on tumors that are rapidly using glucose (sugar). Cancer cells metabolize much more glucose than regular cells, so tumors “light up” on the scan. Because chordoma cells typically grow slowly, however, they are not always picked up as well by PET scans, so they are not widely used in diagnosing chordoma.
Are biopsies recommended for suspected chordomas?
Imaging studies can show the possibility of a chordoma, but a definitive diagnosis can only be made by a pathologist who examines a sample of tumor tissue under a microscope. For this reason, your medical team may consider taking a small sample of tissue from the tumor, called a biopsy, prior to surgery if the tumor can be reached safely (see important information below regarding biopsies).
Tissue samples should be evaluated by a pathologist who has experience diagnosing bone tumors. Your pathologist may test your tumor tissue for the presence of a protein called brachyury. Nearly all chordomas have high levels of brachyury, which makes it helpful for diagnosis.
For sacral and The parts of the spine not including the sacrum. The cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back), and lumbar spine (lower back) are the parts of the mobile spine. tumors, a A type of biopsy that uses a needle encased in a tube to retrieve a tumor sample and a CT scanner to guide the placement of the biopsy needle. This type of biopsy can help reduce the chance of spreading tumor cells. is recommended and should be done from the back. Trocar CT-guided biopsy uses a CT scan to precisely direct the biopsy needle to the correct location. The biopsy needle is enclosed in a tube to keep tumor cells from spreading along the path of the needle – this is often called Tumor cells deposited along the path of a biopsy needle or left in areas around the tumor during surgery, which will eventually grow into tumors. Seeding is a major concern for chordoma tumors and care should be taken to prevent it.. Talk with your doctors to learn if they plan to use this method if a biopsy is recommended.
Skull base tumors can be difficult to reach safely for a biopsy, so your surgeon may opt for a biopsy during surgery. This means that a pathologist will be prepared to examine a sample of tumor tissue removed at the start of surgery and give an immediate diagnosis, and the surgical team will proceed with surgery based on that information.
If you have a biopsy before surgery, it is recommended that your surgeon take out the tissue around the area of the biopsy during surgery in order to remove any chordoma cells that might have spread when the biopsy disturbed the tumor.
References and further information
The information provided herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your or your child’s physician about any questions you have regarding your or your child’s medical care. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.