Radiosurgery for primary and metastatic tumors of the central nervous system is increasing in utility and intensity. Known complications in the brain include radiation necrosis and the well-documented phenomenon of pseudoprogression. Known complications of radiosurgery to spinal column tumors include radiation myelopathy and delayed vertebral compression fractures; however, the concept of pseudoprogression of spinal column tumors has not been previously described. The authors review 2 cases of spinal metastasis treated with stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and attempt to define the concept of spine tumor pseudoprogression.
Two patients who had undergone SRS to the spine for metastatic disease presented in early follow-up (3 and 7 weeks) with symptomatic complaints consisting of axial pain, radicular pain, or evidence of cord compression. In both patients, MRI revealed evidence of tumor enlargement. In one patient, the lesion had grown by 9 mm and 7.7 mm in the axial and sagittal planes, respectively. In the other patient, the tumor growth resulted in a 5-mm decrease in spinal canal diameter with epidural compression and right foraminal encroachment. Because of the absence of progressive neurological deficit, myelopathy, mechanical symptomatology of instability, or vertebral compression fracture, the first patient was treated expectantly with a corticosteroid taper and had improvement of symptoms at 1 month and near-total radiographic resolution of the tumor. In the second patient, worsening symptoms suggested a need for surgical intervention to address presumed radiosurgical failure and tumor progression. During surgery, only necrotic tumor cells were observed, without viable tumor. Follow-up imaging over 1 year showed ongoing local control.
To their knowledge, the authors report the first description of pseudoprogression involving spinal column metastasis in the literature and aim to alert the treating physician to this clinical situation. Unlike brain tumor pseudoprogression, spine tumor pseudoprogression is a relatively early posttreatment phenomenon, measured in days to 2 months. The authors believe that the acute inflammatory response associated with tumor necrosis and disruption of the tumor capillary integrity caused by radiotherapy is an important component in the development of pseudoprogression. Future studies will be fundamental in assigning clinical significance, defining the incidence and predictors, and affecting future management of this phenomenon.