Neurosurgery

Spinal Metastases

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What is it?

Spinal metastases are lesions in the spine that have spread from a cancer originating elsewhere in the body.

What does it do?

Spinal metastases can cause neurologic symptoms including weakness, sensory loss, strange sensations, difficulty with or inability to walk, or bowel and bladder dysfunction. These symptoms arise from the growth of the lesion as well as from swelling around the lesion.

How long have I had it?

Unfortunately, there is no accurate means to determine how long a patient has had spinal metastases. In some patients, spinal metastases may have grown over the course of many months or years, but be too small to be seen on previous MRI or CT scans.

Can it be cured?

Historically spinal metastases have been considered incurable. However, recent studies suggest that with aggressive therapy, including surgical resection and/or stereotactic radiosurgery, some patients with one (or only a few) spinal metastases may have a chance for cure. In patients with many spinal metastases, a chance for cure is unfortunately unlikely. However, spinal metastases can be controlled, either temporarily or indefinitely, with treatments such as surgical resection, stereotactic radiosurgery, fractionated radiation and chemotherapy. The goal of these treatments is to control (stop or slow down the growth of the spinal metastases and prevent or slow down the growth of new spinal metastases). Treatments for spinal metastases can provide several months, and perhaps years, of remission and better quality of life by keeping the spinal metastases controlled during those times.

What caused it?

Spinal metastases are caused from a cancer cell escaping from the original cancerous tumor, depositing and growing in the boney spine or spinal cord. The reason why cancer cells in some patients have the ability to accomplish these steps is not known. This question is actively being investigated at universities worldwide, including the University of Rochester.

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