Complication, survival rates, and risk factors of surgery for metastatic disease of the spine

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Sep 15;24(18):1943-51. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199909150-00014.


Study design: The risk factors for complications and complication and survival rates in patients with metastatic disease of the spine were reviewed. A retrospective study was performed.

Objectives: To determine the surgical complication and survival rates of patients with metastatic disease of the spine and risk factors for complication occurrence.

Summary of background data: The role of surgical intervention for patients with metastatic disease of the spine has been controversial. Several risk factors for surgical complications have been identified. Short survival times and high complication rates have failed to justify surgical intervention in many cases.

Methods: Patients (n = 80) undergoing surgical treatment for metastatic disease of the spine were reviewed. Surgical indications included progressive neurologic deficit, neurologic deficit failing to respond to, or progressing after, radiation treatment; intractable pain; radioresistant tumors; or the need for histologic diagnosis. Patients underwent anterior, posterior, or combined decompression and stabilization procedures. Neurologic examination was recorded before surgery, postoperative period, and at least follow-up. Complication and survival rates were calculated. Several variables were examined for risk of complication.

Results: The mean age at time of surgery was 55.6 years (range, 20-84 years). Mean survival time after the diagnosis of spinal metastasis was 26.0 months (range, 1-107.25 months). Mean survival time after surgery was 15.9 months (range, 0.25-55.5 months). Sixty-five patients showed no change in Frankel grade, 19 improved one Frankel grade, and 1 deteriorated one Frankel grade; 1 patient had paraplegia. Thirty-five complications occurred in 20 patients (25.0%). Ten patients (12.5%) had multiple complications accounting for 23 of the 35 postoperative problems (65.7%). Sixty patients had no surgical complications (75%). There were no intraoperative deaths.

Conclusions: The likelihood that a complication occurred was significantly related to Harrington classifications demonstrating significant neurologic deficits and the use of preoperative radiation therapy. In general, Harrington classifications with neurologic deficits and lower Frankel grades before and after surgery were associated with an increased risk of complication. Overall, the major complication rate was relatively low, and minor complications were successfully treated with minimal morbidity. The relatively long survival time after spinal surgery in this group of patients justifies surgical treatment for metastatic disease. Most complications occurred in a small percentage of patients. To minimize complications, patients must be carefully selected based on expected length of survival, the use of radiation therapy, presence of neurologic deficit, and impending spinal instability or collapse caused by bone destruction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Spinal Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Spinal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Survival Rate