Vertebral Metastatic Disease: A Practice Guideline for the General Practitioner

Michael S. Taccone,1 Markian Pahuta,2 Darren M.Roffey,3,4Eugene K. Wai,2,3,4

1Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
2Division of Orthopedic Surgery, Department of Surgery, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
3Ottawa Combined Adult Spinal Surgery Program, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
4Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


Abstract: Vertebral metastatic disease afflicts a significant proportion of cancer patients, most commonly those with breast and lung disease. Symptoms can include tumor-related pain, neurological deficit from spinal cord or nerve compression and pathological fracture with mechanical instability. Appropriate workup includes identifying the primary disease, defining the extent of spinal and extra-spinal pathology and classifying spinal stability based on the pattern of osseous involvement. Specific therapy for the vertebral metastatic disease can include pharmacologic therapy to deliver analgesia, steroids, bisphosphonate, anti-neoplastic therapy, radiation therapy as either primary or adjuvant therapy and surgical intervention for mechanical or neurologic instability.
Key Words: Vertebral metastatic disease, metastatic epidural spinal cord compression, spinal instability, spine surgery, spinal radiation therapy, pathologic fracture.

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Red flags are non-specific and unreliable means of determining spinal malignancy in patients with back pain. Clinical suspicion combined with history and physical exam are best for increasing pre-test probability of imaging studies.
Initial evaluation and referral to definitive management should be made within 24 hours of detection of significant neurological deficit, significant metastatic epidural spinal cord compression or instability.
MRI is the imaging modality of choice for initial evaluation and assessment of overall spinal tumor burden.
Vertebral metastatic disease is very common in patients with cancer.
SINS, ESCCS, Tomita score, Tokuhashi score and the Modified Bauer scores are all important tools for determining the most appropriate referral.
In eligible candidates, surgery with adjuvant radiotherapy yields faster and more sustainable neurologic stability and recovery.
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