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J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2006 Oct;14(11):587-98.

Metastatic disease of the spine.

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Rothman Institute, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Metastatic spine disease accounts for 10% to 30% of new cancer diagnoses annually. The most frequent presentation is axial pain. A thorough spinal examination includes assessment of local tenderness, deformity, limitation of motion, and signs of nerve root or cord compression. Plain radiographs are obtained routinely; for a suspected or known malignancy, radionuclide studies are essential. Magnetic resonance imaging is more specific than bone scans. Computed tomography-guided biopsy is considered to be safe and accurate for evaluating spinal lesions. Treatment is multidisciplinary, and virtually all treatment is palliative. Management is guided by three key issues: neurologic compromise, spinal instability, and individual patient factors. Site-directed radiation, with or without chemotherapy, is the mainstay of treating painful lesions that are not impinging on neural elements. New data documenting the benefit of surgical decompression using improved techniques such as anterior approaches have amplified the role of the spine surgeon in the care of these patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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