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Three Common Metastatic Spine Cancers
Three Common Metastatic Spine Cancers

The diagnosis of metastatic spine cancer indicates a person’s cancer has spread from somewhere else in their body to the spine.  These cancer cells have broken away from their original location and traveled, via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, to other parts of the body to form new tumors.  The new tumors, or metastatic tumors, are considered secondary cancers.  They are the same type of cancer as the original, even though they are now located in different parts of the body.  Metastatic spine cancers often occur in the thoracic spine, or mid back area, but they may also affect the lumbar spine.

The three most common types of cancers that metastasize in the spine are lung cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

Metastatic Lung Cancer

Medical MRI  Scan on digital screen of Metastatic Lung Cancer.

Lung cancer that has spread to the bones of the spine can cause chronic pain in the affected bone and increase the risk of a fracture.  The tumor may compress a nerve or nerve root, causing pain that radiates down an arm or leg.  Approximately 30-40 percent of patients with advanced lung cancer will develop metastases on their bones.

Metastatic Breast Cancer

Late stage breast cancer that has spread to the spine can cause spinal cord compression.  The patient may develop a range of neurological symptoms such as severe or unexplained back pain, numbness, pain, and tingling in their extremities, weakness, bladder or bowel control issues, difficulty with balance, or inability to walk.  Breast cancer that spreads to bone most often affects the ribs, spine, pelvis, and long bones of the arms and legs.

Metastatic Prostate Cancer

Advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bones often affects the low back, or lumbar spine.  The tumor can cause spinal cord compression.  Patients may develop many of the same symptoms seen in other metastatic spine cancers, including nerve damage and even paralysis.  Getting treatment soon after diagnosis can reduce the risk of long-term problems.

Diagnosing Metastatic Spine Tumors

Imaging is an important diagnostic tool in diagnosing metastatic spine tumors.  An MRI will show a detailed image of the spine, the spinal cord, and the nerves.  The MRI produces images in different anatomical planes, making it easier to identify soft tissue pathologies.

A CT scan is a combination of x-ray and computer technology that produces clear images of bone, soft tissue, organs, spinal discs, and the spinal cord.  A CT Myelogram incorporates a dye that enables the doctor to see the spinal canal, cord, and nerve roots.  This contrast illuminates parts of the spine that would be more difficult to view in a normal CT scan.

Treating Metastatic Spine Tumors

A middle-aged Asian man was treated for cancer undergoing chemotherapy with his doctor encouraging.

Cancers that have spread to other parts of the body are difficult to treat.  A cure is not likely.  The metastases may be treated with radiation, chemotherapy, or surgical removal with the goal of slowing down the growth of the tumors and stabilizing the spine.  Treatments usually depend on the location, size, and type of cancer.  Other treatments may include bone-strengthening therapy and targeted biological therapies.  Treatments may provide some pain relief and a better quality of life for the patient.

Atlanta Brain and Spine Care

Atlanta Brain and Spine Care is metro Atlanta’s leading neurosurgery practice, offering effective and compassionate care to our patients since 2003.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists.

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