Metastatic cancer of the spine is diagnosed when cancerous cells are found in and/or around the spinal column and spinal cord, having spread from another part of the body. The cancerous cells are transmitted throughout the body and spine through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Upon reaching the spine, they may invade the healthy soft tissue and bone, resulting in one or more tumors developing. The spine is the third most common site for cancer cells to metastasize. A tumor in the spinal canal may compress the spinal cord and nerve roots. Additionally, the bone may become cancerous, causing weakening and perhaps collapse. As the cancer steadily progresses, it may spread to the adjoining discs and other levels of the spine.
Symptoms of metastatic cancer can include pain in the neck or back, weakness in the arms and legs, pain that is worse in the morning, severe pain in the spine that is present with manipulation or compression, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills or shakes. Complications of metastatic cancer vary, depending on a variety of factors, including the location and size of the tumor(s). Tumors that cause nerve compression and vertebral collapse typically result in pain. Untreated, these tumors may cause a loss of nerve function below the tumor. The person may also lose control of both the bladder and bowels. Depending upon the location, compressions of the spine can be fatal.
Treatment options for metastatic cancer of the spine depends on the type of cancer, the number of and location of the tumors, the patient’s life expectancy, and the patient’s overall condition. A treatment plan may include medications, surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stereotactic radiosurgery.