Which Spine Conditions are Treated with Radiation Therapy?

Spinal Tumors
Radiation therapy can be very effective for spinal tumors and may play a significant role in your spine tumor treatment plan. Radiation can be used as the only treatment for spine tumors that do not require surgery. It may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery, eliminate metastatic spine tumors, prevent a tumor from returning or relieve spine tumor pain.

Primary spinal tumors are uncommon but when they occur they are classified as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Primary spine tumors originate in the spine or spinal cord. Spinal tumors may occur anywhere in the spine including the neck (cervical), middle (thoracic), lower (lumbar) and sacral (tailbone) areas.

Primary spine cancers that respond well to radiation therapy:

  • Primary vertebral column tumors
  • Tumors such as large ependymomas and intramedullary astrocytomas may be treated post-operatively with radiation therapy

Spine Metastases
Secondary spine tumors may form when cancer from another part of the body migrates, or metastasizes to the spine. Spinal metastases, or spine mets, are made up of the tissue from the primary cancer site.

Spine mets are relatively common. In fact, the spine is the third most common site for cancer cells to metastasize after lung and liver and the most common site of bone metastasis.1

Approximately two thirds of patients with cancer will develop bone metastasis.1

Primary Sources of Spinal Metastatic Disease:
Lung – 31%
Breast – 24%
GI tract – 9%
Prostate – 8%

Your cancer treatment team will work together to make decisions to treat your spinal metastases. The team is usually multidisciplinary and includes spinal surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other medical specialists. Many metastatic spine cancers can be treated with radiation therapy to eliminate the tumors and help prevent their return.

If you are experiencing unrelenting and persistent back pain that gets progressively worse, is not lessened with rest, gets bad enough at night to awaken you, speak with your doctor right away as this may indicate a serious condition.

1 MedScape