Surgical excision is the mainstay treatment for resectable low-grade intramedullary spinal cord tumors (IMSCTs) in the pediatric age group. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are generally reserved for progressive or recurrent disease. Given the indolent nature of low-grade tumors and the potential side effects of these approaches, their long-term treatment benefits are unclear. The aim of the study was to determine long-term disease outcomes and the therapeutic roles of surgery and adjuvant therapies in pediatric patients with low-grade IMSCTs over an extended follow-up period.
Case records for all pediatric patients (< 21 years of age) with a histopathological diagnosis of low-grade IMSCT were selected over a period from January 1975 to January 2010. Outcome variables including McCormick functional grade, overall survival (OS), and progression-free survival (PFS) were analyzed with respect to demographic and treatment variables.
Case records of 37 patients with low-grade IMSCTs were identified, with a mean follow-up duration of 12.3 ± 1.4 years (range 0.5–37.2 years). Low-grade astrocytomas were the most prevalent histological subtype (n = 22, 59%). Gross-total resection (GTR) was achieved in 38% of patients (n = 14). Fusion surgery was required in 62% of patients with pre- or postoperative deformity (10 of 16). On presentation, functional improvement was observed in 87% and 46% of patients in McCormick Grades I and II, respectively, and in 100%, 100%, and 75% in Grades III, IV, and V, respectively. Kaplan-Meier PFS rates were 63% at 5 years, 57% at 10 years, and 44% at 20 years. OS rates were 92% at 5 years, 80% at 10 years, and 65% at 20 years. On multivariate analysis, shunt placement (hazard ratio [HR] 0.33, p = 0.01) correlated with disease progression. There was a trend toward improved 5-year PFS in patients who received adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy (RT; 55%) compared with those who did not (36%). Patients who underwent subtotal resection (STR) were most likely to undergo adjuvant therapy (HR 7.86, p = 0.02).
This extended follow-up duration in patients with low-grade IMSCTs beyond the first decade indicates favorable long-term OS up to 65% at 20 years. GTR improved PFS and was well tolerated with sustained functional improvement in the majority of patients. Adjuvant chemotherapy and RT improved PFS in patients who underwent STR. These results emphasize the role of resection as the primary treatment approach, with adjuvant therapy reserved for patients at risk for disease progression and those with residual tumor burden.