The spinal column is the most frequent site of bone metastasis in the body. Spine surgeons are often involved in the care of these patients only after nonoperative management has failed. Because surgery has been viewed as no better than radiotherapy in the treatment of metastasis of the spine, it has only been used as a salvage approach. These views are based on a body of literature in which laminectomy combined with radiotherapy was compared with radiotherapy alone. Anterior approaches to the spine are now popular and familiar to most surgeons. These approaches allow direct access to the metastatic lesion, reconstruction of the anterior vertebral column, and the placement of anterior instrumentation. Outcomes are frequently much better when this combined treatment is used instead of radiotherapy alone. In selected patients, surgery may be desired as first-line therapy before radio- or chemotherapy has been initiated.
The controversy surrounding surgery for metastatic spinal disease is reviewed. Treatment strategies, both operative and nonoperative, are presented. Indications and strategies for surgery are also presented, and the supporting literature is reviewed.