Spinal Cancer Treatment

Spinal cancers that originate in the spine are called primary spine cancer. Less than 10% of spinal cancers are primary cancers. Most spinal cancers start elsewhere in the body and spread to the spine causing secondary cancer. 

If you have been diagnosed with spine cancer, your doctor and healthcare team will discuss your treatment options, expected side effects and possible risks. Your diagnostic test results will help determine how to treat spinal cancer

Since most of these cancers are metastatic (tend to spread), early diagnosis and prompt treatment improve the life expectancy of spinal cancer

Spinal Cancer Treatment Options

Spinal cancer treatment options depend upon several factors such as type, stage, the extent of spread, and overall health and fitness of the patient. 

Standard treatment options for spinal cancers are:

Surgery

It is the first-line treatment for spinal cancers and often the best option. It is also recommended in spinal cancers pressing on nerves or resisting radiation therapy and chemotherapy

Surgery is preferred when spinal cancer is limited to one portion of the spine, and it is possible to remove the entire cancerous portion. In advanced stage 3 and stage 4 spinal cancers, surgery helps relieve symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. With newer technology, surgery for spinal cancer is minimally invasive that allows quick recovery.

Surgery for spinal cancers may have some inherent risks. Speak to your doctor about them. Feel free to seek a second opinion before you begin treatment for your spinal cancer.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to stop cancer cells from growing or killing them. This treatment forms a part of standard treatment options and is used to treat several types of cancers, including spinal cancer. 

Radiation therapy is often used after a resection surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and prevent their spread. This also prevents cancer recurrence. The duration of your radiation therapy and per session time will depend upon your spinal cancer type and spread. Only the affected area is irradiated in localised spinal cancers, but in metastatic or advanced stage spinal cancers, the entire spine may receive radiation therapy.

The latest technology used to provide radiation therapy in delicate cancers like that of the spine include:

  • Cyberknife
  • Stereotactic radiation therapy
  • Brachytherapy
  • Proton Therapy
  • Image-guided intensity-modulated radiation therapy

Chemotherapy

This treatment uses drugs anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. Though chemotherapy may be given orally or injected into a vein, in the case of spinal cancers, the drugs may be injected directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. Chemotherapy is often used as adjuvant therapy with other treatments like surgery or radiation therapy. 

Though chemotherapy aims to kill cancer cells, it also damages healthy cells, giving rise to side effects. Discuss with your doctor any concerns you have about chemotherapy and spinal cancer side effects and what to expect during treatment.

Interventional Radiotherapy

This is a new age treatment modality in which doctors can visualise tumours using real-time imaging and provide palliative treatment directly into the tumour and monitor your response to it. Two examples of this treatment are kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty. When used for treating spinal cancers, they provide benefits such as:

  • Short surgery time
  • Quick recovery
  • Provide symptomatic relief
  • Restore form and function of the vertebrae
  • Restore vertebral height
  • Reduce chances of spinal deformity

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs that target specific sites on cancer cells. While most targeted drug therapies target cancer cells in primary spine cancer, some targeted drugs also target secondary cancers of the spine. 

A type of targeted drug called the monoclonal antibody may be used in the treatment of spinal cancers. This drug prevents the formation of new blood vessels, a critical element in the growth of tumours. Targeted drug therapy is often recommended in patients with a high risk of recurrence.

Like most cancer treatments, targeted drug therapy may cause some side effects. Discuss with your doctor any queries you may have about this treatment.

Life After Spine Cancer

Undergoing spine cancer treatment can appear challenging, but you can take baby steps towards bringing your life back on track with support from your healthcare team and loved ones. Getting back to routine life after undergoing spine cancer treatment can take some time due to the possible side effects of the various treatments you may have experienced. Also, spine tumours can cause pain, difficulty in movement, loss of balance, numbness, fatigue and weakness, all of which can affect your ability to perform routine activities like getting out of bed, walking, brushing, bathing, etc.

Some additional treatments and therapies that you may need after undergoing spine cancer treatment include:

  • Rehabilitation, physical therapy and exercise
  • Counselling and support
  • Alternative therapies and integrated medicine

Seeking a Second Opinion For Spinal Cancer

Spine cancers are less common, and treating them can be complex depending upon their type, location and aggressiveness. Also, due to their association with delicate structures around them, the treatment of spine cancers requires utmost precision and accuracy. 

If you have been diagnosed with spine cancer, you must seek a second opinion with another specialist to get a comprehensive view of your diagnosis and treatment plan. Speak to your doctor about getting a second opinion anytime during your treatment journey.

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