Spine Cancer Treatment
A spinal cancer diagnosis, like any cancer diagnosis, can be disheartening. Patients naturally desire the most cutting-edge and effective treatment methods available. Age, health and the type of tumor will determine which treatment method is right for each patient. Not all spine tumors are cancerous, and may be treated with the same methods used to treat cancerous spinal tumors.
Treatment options for spinal cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor.
- Radiation, including using CyberKnife radiosurgery therapy, a more direct and targeted approach to delivery than traditional radiation.
- Chemotherapy to kill the cancer or eliminate pain.
- Mindful monitoring.
Like the treatment of all cancers, spinal cancer treatment is most successful when performed by a skilled oncologist.
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If a doctor or patient suspects a spinal column or vertebral tumor, the physician will likely recommend tests to determine the type, location and extent of the suspected tumor. These tests include MRI, CT scan and biopsy of tumor tissue to determine if it is a cancerous or benign tumor.
Spinal cancer and vertebral tumor treatments attempt to eliminate the tumor. Standard treatment options can risk permanent damage to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves, so patients and their doctors need to keep this prospect in mind when evaluating treatment options. Treatment recommendations are based on a patient’s age, health and the type of spinal cancer.
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Spine cancer treatment options
The primary goal of spinal cancer treatment is to remove the tumor. In some cases palliative care to improve the patient’s quality of life can be a treatment (see below). Most treatment plans include one or more of the following treatment options.
- Monitoring. If the tumors in the spine are small enough, noncancerous and not causing symptoms, watching them carefully may be an option. Doctors will most likely recommend MRIs or CT scans to monitor the tumor, making sure it isn’t progressing toward a cancerous tumor. This also relates to adults who have already had radiation therapy.
- Traditional surgery. With newer techniques and instruments, neurosurgeons can reach harder-to-access tumors in the spine or vertebrae using microscopes in surgery. If a tumor can’t be removed completely, surgery might be followed with radiation therapy, chemotherapy or both.
- Radiation therapy. Traditional radiation therapy is often the first line treatment for vertebral cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy utilizes radio beams, X-rays or other charged particles to help eliminate remnants of any spinal tumors after surgery. It’s also used to treat inoperable tumors or tumors where surgery is too risky.
- Chemotherapy. This is a common treatment for many types of cancer that uses powerful drugs to destroy tumors and stop cancer cells from growing. There are more than 100 types of chemotherapy drugs, which can be taken orally (by taking pills) or through an IV. Chemotherapy doesn’t target cancer cells and affects both healthy tissue and the tumor. Patients often experience adverse side effects, such as severe nausea and vomiting, infections, fatigue and weight loss.
Palliative treatments are not curative, but focus on providing pain and stress relief to the patient, improving his or her quality of life. Palliative surgery for spinal cancer relieves spinal pressure, as well as preserving neurological function, preventing a spinal fracture and improving a patient’s mobility. Traditional radiation in palliative treatment can be used to slow the growth or control spinal cancer symptoms.
CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery also has benefits as a palliative treatment for spinal cancer, particularly cancer that has metastasized in the spine, which is a common site for the spread of other cancers. In a study cited by the National Institutes of Health, CyberKnife was found to be a primary treatment for spinal metastasis, showing high pain control and convenience for the patient.
CyberKnife treatment for spine cancer
CyberKnife radiosurgery is a noninvasive alternative to surgery for spine cancer. It uses radiotherapy to precisely target and kill cancerous cells in tumors, while greatly reducing the damage done to healthy cells. Treatment is noninvasive, requires fewer sessions and is often more effective. Research data supports the use of CyberKnife for the treatment of spinal column and vertebral tumors.
The system can treat tumors and other problems in virtually any area of the body. CyberKnife is often the best or only option for patients with hard to reach or inoperable tumors of the spine. It is also an excellent option for those who would otherwise have unacceptable side effects or complications when treated by other methods.
Spinal tumors are challenging to treat with traditional radiation therapy because the spine, along with the tumor, can move while the patient breathes. Some traditional radiation therapy systems require that patients hold their breath during the procedure. CyberKnife was designed to continuously track the tumor in real time. With each breath a patient takes, CyberKnife adjusts for even the slightest movement, ensuring that the radiation is targeted at the tumor, not the healthy tissue.
As CyberKnife is continually tracking the location of the spinal tumor, it can deliver a higher dose of radiation safely compared with other radiation therapy systems. The larger doses of radiation per treatment means fewer CyberKnife treatments compared with other radiotherapy systems.
Related blog: Why CyberKnife Is the Best Stereotactic Radiosurgery to Treat Cancers
Risks of spine cancer treatments
While CyberKnife has very few risks, most cancer treatments can have risks of unpleasant side effects. Depending on the type of treatment, the stage of the cancer and personal factors that vary with each patient, side effects can include:
- Allergic reaction to medications.
- Infections from invasive procedures.
- Fatigue and nausea from chemo and radiation therapy.
- Complications from surgery and accompanying anesthesia.
- Side effects of CyberKnife treatment are usually temporary, mild, and may include nausea and fatigue.
Patients should talk to their doctor to determine if treatment with the CyberKnife System is right for them.