Spinal Tumor Treatment: Radiation Therapy and Radiosurgery
Radiation therapy and radiosurgery are types of localized, or site-specific, non-invasive therapies that deliver highly focused beams of radiation to the tumor site, while minimizing damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.
Radiation therapy and radiosurgery
Radiation therapy and radiosurgery are typically used when the cancer has metastasized to the bones – its high-energy X-rays are effective at penetrating and killing targeted cancer cells inside the bone. But there are limitations: bones that are fragile or at risk of fracturing may no longer be candidates for radiation therapy. There also exist tumors that are unresponsive to radiation therapy. Additionally, cancer patients previously treated with radiation therapy may have vertebrae that have become brittle, are at risk of other complications, or adjacent vital tissues, such as the spinal cord may have already reached their radiation exposure limit.
How does radiation therapy treat metastatic spinal tumors?
The radiation targets only the metastatic spinal tumor on the affected vertebra, thereby minimizing radiation exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue. This targeted performance has made radiation the treatment of choice for the majority of patients with metastatic spinal tumors.
Within radiation therapy, two principle treatment methods exist: external beam radiotherapy, commonly administered in daily doses called fractions over a series of weeks, and stereotactic radiosurgery, which can have a significantly shorter treatment timeline. Knowing this, patients and physicians must decide how to use radiation therapy to treat a metastatic spinal tumor while balancing the demands of the primary cancer treatment regimen, which must often be delayed for an extended period to avoid the risks associated with simultaneous treatments, known as cumulative toxicity.
Although stereotactic radiosurgery can offer patients a faster return to the primary cancer treatment regimen, other factors have made external beam radiotherapy the more common treatment choice of the two. However, with either radiotherapy treatment, meaningful pain relief may take weeks or months to be achieved.