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Int J Qual Health Care. 2007 Dec;19(6):377-81. Epub 2007 Sep 20.

Metastatic spinal cord compression as an oncology emergency: getting our act together.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, The Cancer Institute, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 11 Jalan Tan Tock Seng, Singapore, Republic of Singapore.



Metastatic spinal cord compression is a dreaded complication of cancer affecting 5-10% of patients requiring urgent treatment. A clinical practice improvement project was carried out to review and fine tune the clinical pathway for the acute management of patients with metastatic spinal cord compression.


To improve the quality of care for metastatic spinal cord compression over 6 months by ensuring that >90% of patients receive definitive treatment within 24 h of radiological diagnosis.


Using clinical practice improvement project methodology, the clinical pathway of 17 patients treated with radiotherapy for metastatic spinal cord compression within the last 6 months were reviewed to identify gaps and delays in the system. Interventions to form a multidisciplinary acute spinal cord crisis team, fine tune clinical referral processes and formulate a standardized treatment protocol were then implemented. Post-intervention of 22 subsequent patients were monitored for time to start steroids and radiation therapy, length of stay and hospitalization bill.


With the interventions implemented, the mean response time to start steroidal therapy was reduced from 8.4 to 2.6 days and radiotherapy from 9.9 to 3.9 days. These translated into shorter mean length of stay from 23.8 to 14.7 days and smaller hospitalization bill size from 13,723 to 8,808 Singapore dollars.


A clinical practice improvement project, to improve the quality of care for patients with metastatic spinal cord compression, can shorten response time to start steroidal therapy and definitive radiotherapy resulting in shorter length of stay and smaller hospitalization bill.

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