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.