Treating Cancer of the Spine

The diagnosis of cancer or tumor of a spine can be a devastating blow to a patient. In addition to the burden of living with the disease, the patients have to live with significant pain and disability. Modern spinal treatments in this field have truly made some remarkable advances, providing dramatic relief to patients and prolonging their lives.

When cancer attacks the spine, it may start at that site (called primary cancer) or may spread there from another part of the body (called metastatic cancer). Spinal cancer may be discovered in a patient who is already living with cancer (e.g. breast, lung, colon, melanoma) or it may be a new diagnosis. The most common symptom of cancer in the spine is pain. It may be accompanied by weakness or numbness or other neurological problems.

The first step in dealing with cancer of the spine is accurate and speedy diagnosis. Once a diagnostic test (CT, MRI, Blood tests or biopsy) confirms cancer, the next step is a discussion between the patient and the cancer team about next steps. A spine specialist is a vital part of this discussion.

Whether the cancer started in the spine or spread to the spine from another site, its treatment seeks to achieve similar goals – controlling the patient’s pain, making sure that his or her neurological status remains as highly functional as possible and finally removing or stopping the cancerous growth.

A minimally invasive spinal surgery can be a very powerful tool in these situations. By offering patients a small incision and a speedy recovery, these techniques allow other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation to start earlier than previously possible. Another exciting advance in this field is robotic radiosurgery. This allows spine specialists to deliver large doses of radiation to the cancer with surgical precision.

It is important to remember that with a team approach, a patient diagnosed with spinal cancer has significantly better quality of life along with the best treatments.