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  • Author or Editor: Laurence Rhines x
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Eric Marmor, Laurence D. Rhines, Jeffrey S. Weinberg and Ziya L. Gokaslan

✓ The authors describe a technique for total en bloc spondylectomy that can be used for lesions involving the lumbar spine. The technique involves a combined anterior—posterior approach and takes into account the unique anatomy of the lumbar spine. This technique allows for the en bloc resection of lumbar vertebral tumors, thus optimizing outcome while minimizing the risk of neurological injury. The technique is described in detail with the aid of neuroimaging studies, photographs of gross pathological specimens, and illustrations, and a discussion of other authors' experiences is provided for comparison.

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Paul J. Holman, Dima Suki, Ian McCutcheon, Jean-Paul Wolinsky, Laurence D. Rhines and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Object. The surgical treatment of metastatic spinal tumors is an essential component of the comprehensive care of cancer patients. In most large series investigators have focused on the treatment of thoracic lesions because 70% of cases involve this region. The lumbar spine is less frequently involved (20% cases), and it is unclear whether its unique anatomical and biomechanical features affect surgery-related outcomes. The authors present a retrospective study of a large series of patients with lumbar metastatic lesions, assessing neurological and pain outcomes, complications, and survival.

Methods. The authors retrospectively reviewed data obtained in 139 patients who underwent 166 surgical procedures for lumbar metastatic disease between August 1994 and April 2001. The impact of operative approach on outcomes was also analyzed.

Among the wide variety of metastatic lesions, pain was the most common presenting symptom (96%), including local pain, radicular pain, and axial pain due to instability. Patients underwent anterior, posterior, and combined approaches depending on the anatomical distribution of disease. One month after surgery, complete or partial improvement in pain was demonstrated in 94% of the cases. The median survival duration for the entire population was 14.8 months.

Conclusions. The surgical treatment of metastatic lesions in the lumbar spine improved neurological and ambulatory function, significantly reducing axial spinal pain; results were comparable with those for other spinal regions. Analysis of results obtained in the present study suggests that outcomes are similar when the operative approach mirrors the anatomical distribution of disease. When lumbar vertebrectomy is necessary, however, anterior approaches minimize blood loss and wound-related complications.

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Total cervical spondylectomy for primary osteogenic sarcoma

Case report and description of operative technique

Zvi R. Cohen, Daryl R. Fourney, Rex A. Marco, Laurence D. Rhines and Ziya L. Gokaslan

✓ The authors describe a technique for total spondylectomy for lesions involving the cervical spine. The method involves separately staged anterior and posterior approaches and befits the unique anatomy of the cervical spine. The procedure is described in detail, with the aid of radiographs, intraoperative photographs, and illustrations. Unlike in the thoracic and lumbar spine—for which methods of total en bloc spondylectomy have previously been described—a strictly en bloc resection is not possible in the cervical spine because of the need to preserve the vertebral arteries and the nerve roots supplying the upper limbs. Although the resection described in this case is by definition intralesional, it is oncologically sound, given the development of effective neoadjuvent chemotherapeutic regimens for osteosarcoma.

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Stephen J. Hentschel, Laurence D. Rhines, Franklin C. Wong, Ziya L. Gokaslan and Ian E. McCutcheon

Object. Little has been written about the appropriate diagnosis, investigation, and management of subarachnoid—pleural fistula (SPF). The authors report a series of patients with SPF that developed after resection of spinal tumor and discuss the diagnosis and treatment of this entity.

Methods. Between 1993 and 2002, nine patients with SPF observed after spinal surgery at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center were prospectively followed. In all patients the tumors were located in the thoracic region, and the most common entity was vertebral body metastasis (six cases), with renal cell carcinoma being the most common form of the disease (three cases). All but one patient underwent surgery via a transthoracic approach; in only one patient an intradural approach was performed. The most common presentation was overt cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leakage, manifesting as chest tube drainage (four cases) or as leakage through the wound (one case). A definitive diagnosis of SPF was established in four patients, with evidence of extraspinal leakage on an 111In-radionuclide CSF study. Although all patients initially underwent a trial of lumbar CSF drainage, all but one required open repair, including creation of intercostal muscle (three cases) and omental (one case) flaps.

Conclusions. After spinal surgery in which the thorax is entered, a diagnosis of SPF should be considered in any patient with abnormal chest tube output, persistent pleural effusion, or clinical evidence of intracranial hypotension. The diagnosis should be confirmed by performing a radionuclide-labeled CSF study. Definitive open repair is required in most cases and preferentially consists of a vascularized tissue graft, which is most easily obtained from an intercostal muscle flap.

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En bloc resection of multilevel cervical chordoma with C-2 involvement

Case report and description of operative technique

Laurence D. Rhines, Daryl R. Fourney, Abdolreza Siadati, Ian Suk and Ziya L. Gokaslan

✓ Chordomas are locally aggressive neoplasms with an extremely high propensity to recur locally following resection, despite adjuvant therapy. This biological behavior has led most authors to conclude that en bloc resection provides the best chance for the patient's prolonged disease-free survival and possible cure.

The authors present a case of an extensive upper cervical chordoma treated by en bloc resection, reconstruction, and long-segment stabilization. Total spondylectomy of C2–4 with sacrifice of the right C2–4 nerve roots and a segment of the right vertebral artery was performed. The inherent anatomical complexities of en bloc resection in the upper cervical spine are discussed. To the authors' knowledge, this represents the first report of an en bloc resection for multilevel cervical chordoma.

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Giant cell ependymoma of the spinal cord

Case report and review of the literature

Daryl R. Fourney, Abdolreza Siadati, Janet M. Bruner, Ziya L. Gokaslan and Laurence D. Rhines

✓ Several rare histological variants of ependymoma have been described. The authors report on a patient in whom cervical spinal cord astrocytoma was originally diagnosed after evaluation of a limited biopsy specimen. More abundant tissue obtained during gross-total resection included areas of well-differentiated ependymoma. The histological features of the tumor were extremely unusual, with a major component of pleomorphic giant cells. Its histological, immunohistochemical, and electron microscopic features, however, were consistent with ependymoma. Only two cases of terminal filum and two of supratentorial giant cell variant of ependymoma have been reported. To the authors' knowledge, this represents the first case of giant cell ependymoma of the spinal cord. The clinical significance is the potential for misdiagnosis with anaplastic (gemistocytic) astrocytoma, especially in cases in whom limited biopsy samples have been obtained.

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Christopher M. McPherson, Dima Suki, Ian E. McCutcheon, Ziya L. Gokaslan, Laurence D. Rhines and Ehud Mendel


Metastastic lesions have been reported in 5 to 40% of patients with spinal and sacrococcygeal chordoma, but few contemporary series of chordoma metastastic disease exist in the literature. Additionally, the outcome in patients with chordoma-induced metastastic neoplasms remains unclear. The authors performed a retrospective review of the neurosurgery database at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to determine the incidence of metastatic disease in a contemporary series of spinal and sacrococcygeal chordoma as well as to determine the outcomes.


Thirty-seven patients underwent surgery for spinal and sacrococcygeal chordoma between June 1, 1993, and March 31, 2004. All records were reviewed, and appropriate statistical analyses were used to compare patient data for preoperative characteristics, treatments, and outcomes.

The authors identified seven patients (19%) in whom metastatic disease developed; in three the disease had metastasized to the lungs only, in two to the lungs and liver, and in two to distant locations in the spine. There were no significant differences in age, sex, tumor location, or history of radiation treatments between patients with and those without metastases. In cases with local recurrent tumors, metastastic disease was more likely to develop than in those without recurrence (28 compared with 0%, respectively; p = 0.07). In two (12%) of 17 patients who underwent en bloc resection, metastatic disease developed, whereas it developed in five (25%) of 20 patients treated by curettage (p = 0.42). The median time from first surgery to the appearance of metastatic disease, as calculated using the Kaplan–Meier method, was 143.4 months (95% confidence interval [CI] 66.8–219.9). The median survival duration of patients with metastatic disease after the first surgery was 106 months (95% CI 55.7–155.7), and this did not differ significantly from that in patients in whom no metastases developed (p = 0.93).


Spinal chordoma metastasized to other locations in 19% of the patients in this series. In patients with local disease recurrence, metastatic lesions are more likely to develop. Metastatic lesions were shown to be aggressive in some cases. Surgery and chemotherapy can play a role in controlling metastatic disease.

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Daryl R. Fourney, Dima Abi-Said, Laurence D. Rhines, Garrett L. Walsh, Frederick F. Lang, Ian E. McCutcheon and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Object. Thoracic or lumbar spine malignant tumors involving both the anterior and posterior columns represent a complex surgical problem. The authors review the results of treating patients with these lesions in whom surgery was performed via a simultaneous anterior—posterior approach.

Methods. The hospital records of 26 patients who underwent surgery via simultaneous combined approach for thoracic and lumbar spinal tumors at our institution from July 1994 to March 2000 were reviewed. Surgery was performed with the patients in the lateral decubitus position for the procedure. The technical details are reported.

The mean survival determined by Kaplan—Meier analysis was 43.4 months for the 15 patients with primary malignant tumors and 22.5 months for the 11 patients with metastatic spinal disease. At 1 month after surgery, 23 (96%) of 24 patients who complained of pain preoperatively reported improvements (p < 0.001, Wilcoxon signed-rank test), and eight (62%) of 13 patients with preoperative neurological deficits were functionally improved (p = 0.01). There were nine major complications, five minor complications, and no deaths within 30 days of surgery. Two patients (8%) later underwent surgery for recurrent tumor.

Conclusions. The simultaneous anterior—posterior approach is a safe and feasible alternative for the exposure tumors of the thoracic and lumbar spine that involve both the anterior and posterior columns. Advantages of the approach include direct visualization of adjacent neurovascular structures, the ability to achieve complete resection of lesions involving all three columns simultaneously (optimizing hemostasis), and the ability to perform excellent dorsal and ventral stabilization in one operative session.

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Daryl R. Fourney, Julie E. York, Zvi R. Cohen, Dima Suki, Laurence D. Rhines and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Object. The treatment of atlantoaxial spinal metastases is complicated by the region's unique biomechanical and anatomical characteristics. Patients most frequently present with pain secondary to instability; neurological deficits are rare. Recently, some authors have performed anterior approaches (transoral or extraoral) for resection of upper cervical metastases. The authors review their experience with a surgical strategy that emphasizes posterior stabilization of the spine and avoidance of poorly tolerated external orthoses such as the rigid cervical collar or halo vest.

Methods. The authors performed a retrospective review of 19 consecutively treated patients with C-1 or C-2 metastases who underwent surgery at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center between 1994 and 2001.

Visual analog pain scores were reduced at 1 and 3 months (p < 0.005, Wilcoxon signed-rank test); however, evaluation of pain at 6 months and 1 year was limited by the remaining number of surviving patients. Analgesic medication consumption was unchanged. There were no cases of neurological decline or sudden death secondary to residual or recurrent atlantoaxial disease during the follow-up period. One patient underwent revision of hardware at 11 months. The mean follow-up period was 8 months (range 1–32 months). Median survival determined by Kaplan—Meier analysis was 6.1 months (95% confidence interval 2.99–9.21).

Conclusions. Occipitocervical stabilization provided durable pain relief and preservation of ambulatory status over the remaining life span of patients. Because of the palliative goals of surgery, the authors have not found an indication for anterior-approach tumor resection in these patients. Successful stabilization obviates the need for an external orthosis.

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Iman Feiz-Erfan, Benjamin D. Fox, Remi Nader, Dima Suki, Indro Chakrabarti, Ehud Mendel, Ziya L. Gokaslan, Ganesh Rao and Laurence D. Rhines


Hematogenous metastases to the sacrum can produce significant pain and lead to spinal instability. The object of this study was to evaluate the palliative benefit of surgery in patients with these metastases.


The authors retrospectively reviewed all cases involving patients undergoing surgery for metastatic disease to the sacrum at a single tertiary cancer center between 1993 and 2005.


Twenty-five patients (21 men, 4 women) were identified as having undergone sacral surgery for hematogenous metastatic disease during the study period. Their median age was 57 years (range 25–71 years). The indications for surgery included palliation of pain (in 24 cases), need for diagnosis (in 1 case), and spinal instability (in 3 cases). The most common primary disease was renal cell carcinoma.

Complications occurred in 10 patients (40%). The median overall survival was 11 months (95% CI 5.4–16.6 months). The median time from the initial diagnosis to the diagnosis of metastatic disease in the sacrum was 14 months (95% CI 0.0–29.3 months). The numerical pain scores (scale 0–10) were improved from a median of 8 preoperatively to a median of 3 postoperatively at 90 days, 6 months, and 1 year (p < 0.01). Postoperative modified Frankel grades improved in 8 cases, worsened in 3 (due to disease progression), and remained unchanged in 14 (p = 0.19). Among patients with renal cell carcinoma, the median overall survival was better in those in whom the sacrum was the sole site of metastatic disease than in those with multiple sites of metastatic disease (16 vs 9 months, respectively; p = 0.053).


Surgery is effective to palliate pain with acceptable morbidity in patients with metastatic disease to the sacrum. In the subgroup of patients with renal cell carcinoma, those with the sacrum as their solitary site of metastatic disease demonstrated improved survival.