Every year 23,000 people in the United States face the diagnosis that they have a malignant brain or spinal cord tumor. For these patients, choosing from the multiple treatment options can be both confusing and overwhelming. Now there is a new nonsurgical option to treat spine tumors called stereotactic radiosurgery.
Tumors that originate from the spine are rare. It is much more common for spinal tumors to have metastasized from cancerous tumors originating in other parts of the body, such as the lung, breast, skin, and colon. Regardless of whether the tumor is cancerous or noncancerous, they can affect the nerves nearby, leading to pain, neurological problems, and possibly paralysis. If a patient’s cancer has spread to the spine, the primary treatment goal becomes to relieve the pain and prevent neurological deterioration.
The typical treatment for metastases is medication, surgery, conventional radiation therapy, or stereotactic radiosurgery. While medication can manage the pain and swelling caused by the tumor, if the location and size of the tumor and the medical condition of the patient require it, more treatment may be needed.
It is important that patients who are diagnosed with spinal metastases receive treatment that does not interfere with the treatment of the primary cancer. This new stereotactic radiosurgery has addressed this concern by treating tumors without making incisions and protecting healthy spinal cord tissue, making this a key form of treatment for patients who have spinal tumors.
Spine tumors move as the patient breaths, creating a treatment challenge. The conventional radiation therapy is not able to account for this movement, potentially leading to damage to surrounding healthy tissue by the radiation. Stereotactic radiosurgery avoids damage to healthy tissue by targeting the tumor with extreme accuracy. This accuracy is achieved through the combination of 3D imaging of the tumor in addition to live images during treatment. This allows for automatic real-time adjustments to be made whenever the patient breaths.
Stereotactic radiosurgery treats tumors in up to five procedures that last about 90 minutes each. Since the treatment is noninvasive, patients are usually able to return to their normal activities immediately with few to no side effects. Potential candidates for this treatment include patients who experience localized, solid mass spinal tumors, patients diagnosed with medically inoperable tumors, or patients with high risk of reoccurrence.
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