Background: Distant metastases from differentiated thyroid carcinoma occur in up to 20% of cases and represent the most frequent cause of thyroid cancer-related death. Metastatic disease to the spine has the potential to cause severe morbidity, including pain, neurological deficit, and paraplegia.
Summary: We present a case series of eight consecutive patients with symptomatic spinal metastases due to thyroid carcinoma treated by our multidisciplinary team consisting of spinal surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists, with management of each case determined by our surgical algorithm. Four patients underwent surgical decompression and stabilization for spinal metastases causing instability, spinal cord compression, neurological deficit, or intractable pain. Three patients underwent vertebroplasty for focal mechanical pain due to osteolytic metastases in the absence of significant spinal cord compression or spinal instability; one of these patients required subsequent surgical decompression for spinal cord compression. One patient was nonoperatively treated. All patients underwent total thyroidectomy for the primary cancer and adjuvant radioiodine-131 treatment. The only patient with poorly differentiated thyroid cancer, which was refractory to radioiodine-131 died at 6 months after vertebroplasty procedures for symptomatic spinal metastases. One patient with medullary thyroid carcinoma died at 18 months after vertebroplasty. All remaining six patients who had well-differentiated papillary or follicular thyroid carcinoma were alive at an average of 50 months (range: 17-96 months) after diagnosis and treatment of symptomatic spinal metastases and were ambulant, independent, and able to perform activities of daily living and had no significant pain or neurologic symptoms.
Conclusion: The potential for long-term survival of several years following development of spinal metastases should be considered during the counseling and decision-making process for patients with thyroid cancer.