Metastatic Spinal Disease: Understanding the Life-Threatening Condition

Metastatic spinal disease happens when cancer cells from one part of the body break away and travel to the spinal bones to cause Metastatic spinal tumours in the spine. Also referred to as metastatic spinal cancer, it is an advanced condition that causes pain, weakness, breathing difficulty, bowel incontinence, and even paralysis.

“Cancer in the spine has a worse prognosis than cancer not in the spine,” says a spine surgeon in the UK, Mr. Jwalant S. Mehta. In simpler terms, cancer that has spread to the spine can cause more severe problems to the patient, is difficult to treat, and can even be fatal in some cases.

Unfortunately, metastatic spinal disease or cancer is the most common secondary cancer in almost 60% of advanced cancer patients. With the inputs from Children and Adult Spinal Surgeon Mr. Jwalant S. Mehta, let us delve into this condition to know more about this serious condition.

Complications of Metastatic Spinal Disease – How Metastasis Impacts the Spine?

Medical researchers haven’t yet found the exact reason for cancer spreading to different body parts. It is a complex combination of multiple factors, which also vary depending on the type of cancer and its stage, including the size and location of the primary tumour, according to a spine surgeon in the UK, Mr Jwalant S Mehta.

Cancer cells may travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic vessels, spreading to the spine through nearby tumours. But when they do, these cancer cells can cause problems for the spine in different ways:

Bone Metastases: Cancer cells that reach the spinal bones weaken them, leading to the development of spinal instability along with intense pain and nerve damage. In some cases, bone metastases can also lead to nerve compression and a host of associated problems it triggers.

Spinal Cord Metastases: The cancer cells may gradually damage the spinal cord, eventually leading to weakness, paralysis, and other associated problems like bowel and bladder incontinence.

Nerve Root Metastases: The cancer cells that reach the nerves in the spine may interfere with their function, causing muscle weakness, pain, numbness, and tingling sensation.

Effectively, this multiple metastases eventually leads to brittle spinal bones, pain, weakness, numbness, nerve damage, and bowel and bladder incontinence, which are the most common symptoms experienced by patients with metastatic spinal diseases.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Metastatic Spinal Disease:

After analyzing the medical history and physical exam results, imaging studies like X-rays, MRI, or bone scans and a biopsy are performed to diagnose metastatic spinal disease or cancer. The treatment for metastatic spinal disease depends on the stage of the disease and its severity. Various treatment options are used to manage and treat metastatic spine cancer. A spine specialist approaches the treatment intending to relieve pain, stabilize the spine, and improve the overall quality of life for the patient.

To this effect, the specialist may use chemotherapy to shrink the tumours, radiation therapy to kill cancer cells, pain medication to relieve pain, and physical or occupational therapy to improve body mechanics. Depending on the clinical history and severity of the condition, these treatment options are used individually or in a phased manner to treat this challenging condition.

A pre-existing cancerous condition is almost always the reason behind metastatic spinal tumours. However, this condition may also develop without a pre-existing cancer in rare cases. So it is essential to closely examine any spinal issues and consult a spine specialist as soon as possible. If you are living in and around this area, you can contact spine specialist Dr. Jwalant S. Mehta