Treatments for metastatic spinal tumors tend to focus on preserving spinal stability and neurological function, as well as reducing pain. Typically, the treatment of the primary cancer (the source) takes precedence over a metastatic spinal tumor, so the coordination of care among different medical specialists is important.

Metastatic Tumor Treatment Considerations

Treatment of metastatic spinal tumors must take into consideration the following:

  • Type of cancer
  • Number of tumors in the spine
  • Location of tumor(s)
  • Current cancer treatment
  • Life expectancy
  • Quality of life
  • Comorbidities such as anemia, diabetes, and high blood pressure
  • Family support
  • Financial limitations

Also, the patient’s personal preferences and considerations regarding his or her primary cancer are important in deciding how to treat the metastatic spinal tumor(s).


Metastatic Spinal Tumor Treatment Goals

Most metastatic spinal tumors develop within a vertebra and weaken the bone over time. If a vertebra fractures, the spine becomes unstable, which could lead to more pain and possibly compress the spinal cord or a spinal nerve. With these common complications in mind, treatment goals for metastatic spinal tumors tend to include:

  • Pain relief. Since a metastatic spinal tumor results from a spreading cancer, the main goal of treatment is to reduce pain and maintain a good quality of life.
  • Preserve neurological function. Maintaining or restoring spinal stability may be required to preserve neurological function, such as walking and/or controlling bowel and bladder function. People with metastatic spinal tumors tend have a better prognosis (long-term outlook) when they are able to maintain the ability to walk.
  • Support ongoing cancer treatments. Treatments for the primary cancer are typically designed to achieve remission (prolong life) and/or provide optimal comfort. Any metastatic spinal tumor treatment must first consider these other treatment goals.
  • Reduce or remove tumor. When applicable, efforts may be made to debulk, or shrink, the spinal tumor to decrease its burden on the body.

In general, an early diagnosis and treatment of metastatic spinal tumors result in a better outcome. Cancer patients who experience the development of new back pain and/or neurological signs, such as limb numbness or weakness, should seek immediate medical care.


Treatment Team for Metastatic Spinal Tumors

Treatment of metastatic spinal tumors involves a multidisciplinary team that can include specialists such as surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, diagnostic and interventional radiologists, and physiatrists. The team works closely with the patient to determine the best treatment options and how to coordinate care.

Dr. David DeWitt is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he specializes in spine surgery. He has more than 15 years of experience evaluating and treating spine diseases and trauma.