How is Cancer of the Spine Treated?

Generally, treatment of spine tumors requires a multidisciplinary approach. Often a combination of treatments – such as surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy – is most effective in fighting the disease.


For solitary tumors that are not embedded near the spinal cord, surgery is commonly used. Surgery may be followed by radiation therapy to eliminate any microscopic traces of the tumor that remain. If the vertebrae of the spine are eroded by the tumor, stabilization of the spine may be required. Stabilization can be accomplished through use of metal hardware or by injecting bone cement into the affected vertebra. When the tumor is impinging on the spinal cord, the neurosurgeon may cut away the tumor to relieve the pressure in a special procedure called spinal cord decompression2.


Radiation therapy:
If the patient suffers from multiple tumors, which is often the case with metastatic spine cancer, he or she will typically undergo radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses low doses of radiation to treat the tumor, in order to minimize damage to healthy tissues, including the spinal cord and nerves. Conventional radiation therapy is generally given in 20 to 40 treatment sessions over four to six weeks4.


Chemotherapy medication is delivered orally or through an IV. It affects both normal tissue and the cancer cells, so patients may experience side effects, such as severe nausea and vomiting, infections, fatigue and weight loss.  Chemotherapy often is given to a patient in combination with other types of spine cancer treatment.


Radiosurgery devices, such as the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System,  offer patients a new option for spine cancer treatment5. Unlike conventional radiation therapy, during which low doses of radiation are delivered over weeks and months, the CyberKnife System can treat a tumor in one to five days by delivering a high dose of radiation with extreme accuracy.