Ectopic extramedullary hematopoiesis (EMH), defined as the formation of blood cells outside the bone marrow, usually occurs in a scenario of chronic anemia when, even after conversion of the bony yellow marrow to red marrow, the body is still unable to meet the demand for red blood cells. Ectopic extramedullary hematopoiesis most commonly occurs in the liver and spleen but may, in fact, occur almost anywhere in the body. Although previous reports have documented EMH presenting as paraspinal masses, such lesions have almost always been associated with a predisposing hematological disorder such as hemolytic anemia, myelofibrosis or myelodysplastic syndromes, thalassemia, polycythemia vera, leukemia, or lymphoma.
The authors of this report describe the first reported instance of EMH in a patient presenting with a symptomatic epidural and paraspinal cervical lesion arising from the posterior spinal elements and no known predisposing hematological disease. Initial radiographs revealed a bony lesion arising posteriorly from the C2–3 laminae and spinous processes. Subsequent imaging suggested the diagnosis, which was confirmed by CT-guided biopsy, peripheral blood smears, and bone marrow aspirate. Despite epidural compression and slight displacement of the cervical cord and thecal sac, the patient's symptoms were limited to pain and diminished cervical range of motion. Therefore, surgery was deferred in favor of nonsurgical therapy. Several alternative modalities for the treatment of EMH have been suggested in the literature, including cytotoxic agents and radiotherapy. The authors opted for an approach utilizing directed low-dose radiotherapy of a total of 25 Gy divided in 2.5-Gy fractions. At the 3-month follow-up, the patient continued to be asymptomatic, and MRI demonstrated a significant reduction in the dimensions of the lesion.
Extramedullary hematopoiesis with spinal cord compression in the absence of a preexisting hematological disorder has not been described in the context of clinical neurosurgical practice. Recognizing that EMH may present as an epidural or paraspinal lesion is important since chemotherapy and radiotherapy are effective therapeutic options in the majority of patients who suffer few if any symptoms. Extensive evaluation for underlying hematological disorders is necessary before undertaking directed therapy. Inadvertent resection of these highly vascularized masses may risk catastrophic intraoperative hemorrhage with no proven benefit as compared with medical treatment, which usually provides excellent long-term outcomes.