Metastatic tumors are a daunting diagnosis — especially in places you might least expect them to develop, such as your spine. Working with an experienced team of doctors will help ensure that you receive the most effective treatment. It’s also important to understand how they occurred and what can be done to treat them.
About Spinal Metastases of the Bones
A metastatic bone tumor (also known as a secondary tumor) develops from cells that have migrated from cancer somewhere else in your body. The majority of metastatic bone tumors in the spine are secondary — in fact, about 90 percent fit into this category.
Most of these tumors are slow-growing, but some do develop more rapidly. Metastatic bone tumors can also spread to other parts of the body, so it’s important that they’re treated as soon as possible for the best possible outcomes.
Symptoms of Spinal Metastases of the Bones
The symptoms associated with metastatic spinal bone tumors are often the same as those found with other tumors of the spine, such as those that occur in the dura or other soft tissues. There are several common symptoms associated with metastatic bone tumors in the spine. They include:
- Unrelenting aching or severe pain that doesn’t respond to medications
- Radicular pain that runs down the arm or leg and essentially follows the length of the nerve that it is affecting
- Fractures that cause pain while sitting or standing if the fracture is placing pressure on nearby nerves
- Compression of the cauda equina, resulting in loss of bowel and bladder control
- A loss of sensation in the buttocks and weakness in the legs
- Spinal cord compression, causing difficulty in moving the limbs along with weakness, numbness, difficulty maintaining balance while walking
- Bladder and bowel control issues
Diagnosing Spinal Metastases of the Bones
Diagnosing your spinal bone tumor will typically involve a thorough examination followed by imaging. These can include X-rays, an MRI or a CT scan. Usually, your doctor will start with a series of X-rays to determine location, size and even possibly advancement of the tumor. An MRI or CT scan can provide greater 3D images of the area to determine if the tumor is isolated or has spread to the surrounding tissues. In some instances, a bone biopsy is ordered to determine if the tumor is benign or malignant and, if the latter, what type of cancer it might be.
Treatment Options for Spinal Metastases of the Bones
There are a number of treatments that can be used for spinal bone metastases. Nonsurgical treatments include chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor in size and kill the cancerous cells. Radiation and Gamma Knife surgery are other non-invasive methods that can help to shrink or kill the tumor. In some cases, part of or the entire tumor may need to be surgically removed to reduce pressure on the spinal cord. If a large void is left that compromises the structure of the bone, reconstruction or fusion surgery may be warranted.