Outcome following decompressive surgery for different histological types of metastatic tumors causing epidural spinal cord compression

Clinical article

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Metastatic epidural spinal cord compression (MESCC) is a relatively common and debilitating complication of metastatic disease that often results in neurological deficits. Recent studies have supported decompressive surgery over radiation therapy for patients who present with MESCC. These studies, however, have grouped all patients with different histological types of metastatic disease into the same study population. The differential outcomes for patients with different histological types of metastatic disease therefore remain unknown.


An institutional database of patients undergoing decompressive surgery for MESCC at an academic tertiary-care institution between 1996 and 2006 was retrospectively reviewed. Patients with primary lung, breast, prostate, kidney, or gastrointestinal (GI) cancer or melanoma were identified. Fisher exact and log-rank analyses were used to compare pre-, peri-, and postoperative variables and survival for patients with these different types of primary cancers.


Twenty-seven patients with primary lung cancer, 26 with breast cancer, 20 with prostate cancer, 21 with kidney cancer, 13 with GI cancer, and 7 with melanoma were identified and categorized. All of these patients were followed up for a mean ± SD of 10.8 ± 3.8 months following surgery. Patients with primary lung and prostate cancers were typically older than patients with other types of primary cancers. Patients with prostate cancer had the shortest duration of symptoms and more commonly presented with motor deficits, while patients with breast cancer more commonly had cervical spine involvement and compression fractures. For all histological types, > 90% of patients retained the ability to ambulate following surgery. However, the group with the highest percentage of patients who regained ambulatory function after decompressive surgery was the lung cancer group. Patients with breast or kidney cancer and those with melanoma had the highest median duration of survival following decompressive surgery.


The present study identifies differences in presenting symptoms, operative course, perioperative complications, long-term ambulatory outcomes, and duration of survival for patients with lung, breast, prostate, kidney, and GI cancers and melanoma. This understanding may allow better risk stratification for patients with MESCC.

Abbreviations used in this paper:GI = gastrointestinal; IQR = interquartile range; MESCC = metastatic epidural spinal cord compression.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Kaisorn L. Chaichana, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 North Wolfe Street, Meyer 8-161, Baltimore, Maryland 21287. email: kaisorn@jhmi.edu.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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