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Advances in treatment of spinal metastases

October 26, 2021

Brain and Spine Cancer Primary Care
A specialist explains X-rays to an anxious couple.

Spinal metastasis occurs when cancer cells from a primary (or original) cancerous tumor spread to the spine. It’s an advanced cancer that can be hard to treat. Long-term remission often isn’t possible, but treatment is still important because it can relieve your symptoms and potentially help you live longer.

“Patients with spinal metastases often have back pain that occurs at night and disturbs their sleep,” explains Charles “Ron” Kersh, M.D., a radiation oncologist at the Chesapeake Regional, Riverside & University of Virginia Radiosurgery Center at Riverside Regional Medical Center. “And if a tumor pushes on your spinal cord, it can affect your ability to do things like use your senses, move and keep your balance, and control your bowels and bladder.”

The goal of treatment is to manage these symptoms and improve your quality of life by shrinking or removing the spine tumors that are already there and slowing or stopping the growth of new tumors.

Like other cancers, doctors often treat spinal metastases using a combination of therapies such as radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. However, technological advancements and other refinements in cancer care have made the treatment of spinal metastases more accurate and efficient, further improving patient outcomes.

Riverside Health is proud to offer world-class, advanced care, including stereotactic radiosurgery, for patients with spinal metastases.

What is stereotactic radiosurgery?

Stereotactic radiosurgery is sometimes called knifeless surgery.  It actually isn’t a surgery at all.  Instead, it is an extremely precise type of radiation therapy that delivers high-dose beams of radiation energy to the exact area that needs treatment.

“Even though stereotactic radiosurgery was first used to treat brain tumors over 50 years ago, advancements in technology now make it a new way to treat spine tumors more precisely and noninvasively,” says Dr. Kersh. 

“Noninvasive” means it doesn’t require incisions, or opening the skin. The benefits of noninvasive procedures include less pain and a faster recovery.

How does stereotactic radiosurgery work?

Stereotactic radiosurgery works much like other forms of radiation therapy by destroying the DNA of cancer cells. This causes the cancer cells to no longer be able to multiply. The cancer cells die, and tumors shrink.

What makes stereotactic radiosurgery different than other types of radiation therapy, however, is a special machine that produces focused beams of radiation energy — either X-rays, gamma rays or protons. These beams contain radiation in very high doses, which means you can complete your radiation treatment in one or very few sessions. Stereotactic radiosurgery is also much more precise than other types of radiation therapy because the focused beams of radiation energy are guided with the help of advanced 3D medical imaging.

“This is not just good for treating tumors. It also ensures damage to healthy tissue is minimized greatly or avoided altogether,” explains Dr. Kersh. “This results in fewer treatment side effects.”

Guided by experienced neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists, the Chesapeake Regional, Riverside & University of Virginia Radiosurgery Center at Riverside Regional Medical Center uses the Edge™ Radiosurgery Suite to treat spinal metastases. Ask your medical oncologist or radiation oncologist if stereotactic radiosurgery could help you.


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