Diagnosis and Treatment of Vertebral Column Metastases

Ecker, Robert D.; Endo, Toshiki; Wetjen, Nicholas M.; Krauss, William E.
September 2005
Mayo Clinic Proceedings;Sep2005, Vol. 80 Issue 9, p1177
Academic Journal
The vertebral column is recognized as the most common site for bony metastases in patients with systemic malignancy. Patients with metastatic spinal tumors may present with pain, neurologic deficit, or both. Some tumors are asymptomatic and are detected during screening examinations. Treatment options include medical therapy, surgery, and radiation. However, diversity of patient condition, tumor pathology, and anatomical extent of disease complicate broad generalizations for treatment. Historically, surgery was considered the most appropriate initial therapy in patients with spinal metastasis with the goal of eradication of gross disease. However, such an aggressive approach has not been practical for many patients. Now, operative intervention is often palliative, with pain control and maintenance of function and stability the major goals. Surgery is reserved for neurologic compromise, radiation failure, spinal instability, or uncertain diagnosis. Recent literature has revealed that surgical outcomes have improved with advances in surgical technique, including refinement of anterior, lateral, posterolateral, and various approaches to the anterior spine, where most metastatic disease is located. We review these surgical approaches for which a team of surgeons often is needed, including neurosurgeons and orthopedic, general, vascular, and thoracic surgeons. Overall, a multimodality approach is useful in caring for these patients. It is important that clinicians are aware of the various therapeutic options and their indications. The optimal treatment of individual patients with spinal metastases should include consideration of their neurologic status, anatomical extent of disease, general health, age, and quality of life.


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