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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Apr;16(4):1613-24.

Emergency treatment of malignant extradural spinal cord compression: an evidence-based guideline.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, The Princess Margaret Hospital, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



To review the literature for malignant extradural spinal cord compression (MSCC), produce evidence-based recommendations based on the criteria used by the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination, and make suggestions regarding future research directives.


A systematic review of the literature with explicit study selection and evaluation criteria was performed. Primary outcome measure was posttreatment ambulation rate.


There is good evidence to support the use of high-dose dexamethasone (96 mg/d), but inconclusive evidence for the use of moderate-dose steroids (16 mg/d) in conjunction with radiotherapy (RT) for the treatment of MSCC. Fair evidence exists for not using steroids in patients who are nonparetic and ambulatory pretreatment, and to give radiation to patients with subclinical spinal cord compression (SCC). The remainder of the recommendations are based on inconclusive evidence: RT alone should be the first-line treatment for ambulatory patients except when there is spinal instability, bony compression, or paraplegia on presentation, in which case surgery should be performed. Either modality can be used for paraparetic patients who are nonambulatory. Postoperative RT should be considered for tumor in residua. Ambulatory, undiagnosed patients should have needle biopsy attempted first. Patients should be aggressively screened and educated about SCC.


In general, there were very few papers of high methodologic quality found in the literature. More studies are needed to satisfy the validity of many of the clinical decisions that are made today with regard to the management of MSCC.

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