A total of 2259 children with solid malignant tumors were treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital between the years 1962 and 1987. Of these, 112 (5%) developed spinal epidural metastasis with spinal cord compression during the course of their disease process. Metastatic epidural spinal cord compression was caused most commonly by Ewing's sarcoma and neuroblastoma, followed by osteogenic sarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, Hodgkin's disease, soft-tissue sarcoma, germ-cell tumor, Wilm's tumor, and (rarely) hepatoma. There was no significant difference in outcome between patients with small-cell tumors (neuroblastoma, Hodgkin's disease, and germ-cell tumors) who received only chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy and the patients with similar lesions who received a decompressive laminectomy alone or prior to chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Patients with spinal cord compression from metastatic sarcoma (Ewing's sarcoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, osteogenic sarcoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma) showed a significant improvement with decompressive laminectomy alone or before medical therapy, compared to those who received radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy without posterior decompression. Pediatric tumors invade the spinal canal via the neural foramen, compressing the spinal cord in a circumferential manner, allowing decompressive laminectomy (posterior approach) to be an effective surgical approach. Sixty-six percent of children who had no evidence of motor or sensory function below the level of the compression became ambulatory after surgical decompression and medical treatment, regardless of tumor type.