Treatment for Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, medication or a combination of treatments. A treatment plan depends on the spinal tumor type and a patient’s overall health history. Members of our Spinal Tumor Program meet weekly to develop and review treatment plans for individual patients with spinal tumors.

Metastatic Spinal Tumor Treatment

Treatment for metastatic spinal tumors includes consideration of multiple treatment types, including surgery, radiation therapy, interventional radiology procedures and systemic therapies such as chemotherapy. Determining the best treatment for metastatic spine tumors depends on many factors, and must be tailored to each patient’s unique clinical situation. Factors such as a patient’s extent of cancer, prior cancer treatments, functional status, and degree of spinal involvement are among many factors that influence a treatment plan. 

Treatments for metastatic spinal tumors can include a range of treatment types to control tumor growth and preserve a patient’s well-being. For example, radiation therapy (e.g., conventional radiation therapy or stereotactic body radiation therapy) can be performed as the primary treatment to control a metastatic spinal tumor. In contrast, for some patients surgery may be required first to remove the tumor from the spinal cord and nerves and/or to stabilize the bones of the spine; radiation therapy is performed after surgery to stop the growth of any remaining tumor in the spine. Additionally, interventional radiology procedures such as vertebroplasty may be recommended on its own or with other treatment modalities, such as radiation therapy, to reinforce the integrity of the bones of the spine while treating the spinal tumor.

Primary Spinal Tumor Treatment

Treatment for primary spinal tumors varies widely depending on the tumor type. If a primary spinal tumor is suspected, an image-guided biopsy is recommended to determine the diagnosis. For malignant or locally aggressive tumors such as chordoma or other spinal sarcomas, complete or “en bloc” resection of the tumor can afford long-term tumor control. En bloc resection is a complex surgical procedure that involves removing the entire tumor in an intact piece to prevent spread of the tumor during the surgery. Other primary spinal tumors may be removed in pieces without concern for tumor spread.

As is the case for the treatment of metastatic tumors, primary spinal tumors often require multiple treatment types including surgery, radiation therapy, embolization, vertebroplasty, or cryoablation to effectively manage the tumor, stop the spread of the disease and preserve a patient’s quality of life.

Spinal Cord Tumor Treatment

Treatment of spinal cord tumors varies depending on tumor type and location within the spinal cord. When feasible, an image-guided biopsy is performed first to determine the diagnosis and guide the treatment plan. Management of spinal cord tumors varies, and may include maximal removal of the tumor using specialized equipment (such as a surgical microscope and intraoperative neuro-monitoring) and/or radiation therapy (e.g., stereotactic radiation procedures or other forms of conformal radiation therapy). If the spinal tumor cannot be completely removed, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy may be recommended.

What to Expect After Spinal Tumor Treatment

Specialists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) provide physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to patients who have lost movement, function or abilities due to spinal tumors. You may receive therapy as an inpatient during your stay at BWH. Depending upon your need, care may be provided by a single therapist or a team of physicians and rehabilitation professionals who develop a treatment plan tailored to your abilities and goals. Our staff also works together closely with local rehabilitation centers in the Boston area such as the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. We coordinate ongoing care, follow-up appointments, and communication with our partners that benefit the patient. Our objective is to help patients regain the skills they need to be independent and live life to the fullest.

Patient and Family Resources

NIH – Brain and Spinal Tumors 

Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network

American Association of Neurological Surgeons

Partners Clinical Trials

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