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Daryl R. Fourney and Ziya L. Gokaslan

Sacral chordomas are relatively rare, locally invasive, malignant neoplasms. Although metastasis is infrequent at presentation, the prognosis for patients with chordoma of the sacrum is reported to be poor and attributable in most cases to intralesional resection. The value of adjuvant treatment is uncertain, and resection remains the primary mode of treatment. Chordomas are difficult to excise completely, but recent improvements in imaging and surgical techniques have allowed surgeons to perform more frequently en bloc sacral resections with wide surgical margins. The technical challenges of such operations, and the functional costs for the patient (with respect to anorectal and urogenital dysfunction) are significantly increased when the tumor involves high sacral levels. The authors review the clinical presentation and natural history of sacral chordoma and discuss the current treatment techniques and outcomes.

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Daryl R. Fourney and Ziya L. Gokaslan

In addition to tumor resection, a major goal of spine surgery involving tumors is the preservation or achievement of spinal stability. The criteria defining stability, originally developed for use in trauma, are not directly applicable in the setting of neoplasia. The authors discuss the most common patterns of tumor-related instability and deformity at all levels of the spinal column and review the surgical options for treatment.

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Adam S. Wu, Robert W. Griebel, Kotoo Meguro and Daryl R. Fourney

Spinal subdural empyema is an exceptionally rare and serious condition. Immediate surgery with complete exposure and drainage of the abscess is generally recommended. The authors present a patient in whom a Staphylococcus aureus septicemia related to nosocomial pneumonia developed after a thoracic laminectomy. The surgery was further complicated by an unintended durotomy (dural tear). Ten days postoperatively, the patient experienced back pain and lower-extremity symptoms caused by a subdural empyema. Cultures from the wound also grew S. aureus. This represents the first case of spinal subdural empyema in which the spread of infection into the subdural space is believed to have been facilitated by a dural tear. The patient had a favorable outcome despite an initial delay in surgical intervention because of a pulmonary embolus.