Study design: Eighty-six surgical interventions in 76 consecutive patients with symptomatic spinal metastases were reviewed retrospectively.
Objectives: To evaluate the postoperative outcome and quality of life of patients surgically treated for symptomatic spinal metastases.
Summary of background data: The standard surgical treatment for patients with symptomatic spinal metastases is anterior spinal cord decompression with stabilization. However, because therapy is only palliative, satisfactory quality of life and high patient acceptance are essential.
Methods: The medical records of all patients were reviewed retrospectively. Furthermore, all surviving patients or the next of kin of deceased patients were interviewed by telephone, and the family doctors or the care-providing physicians of external institutions were contacted.
Results: First-choice surgical treatment was anterior spinal cord decompression with stabilization. Postoperative mean survival was 13.1 months, and mean time at home after spinal surgery was 11.1 months. Neurologic improvement with regard to Frankel classification was observed in 58% of the patients, and 93% were able to walk postoperatively. Pain relief was noted in 89%. Overall, 67% of the patients achieved moderate or good general health as shown by the Karnofsky Index, and 80% were satisfied or very satisfied with the surgical intervention. Moreover, 19% of the surgical interventions were associated with complications, local tumor recurrence developed in 22% of the patients, and paraplegia ultimately developed in 18% of patients.
Conclusions: Surgical management of symptomatic spinal metastases, in particular anterior decompression, is of benefit in most metastatic lesions in terms of satisfactory postoperative outcome and quality of life. However, in patients with melanoma or lung carcinoma, the authors advocate spinal surgery only in very exceptional cases.