Diagnostic and Therapeutic Strategies for Patients with Malignant Epidural Spinal Cord Compression

Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2017 Aug 10;18(9):53. doi: 10.1007/s11864-017-0497-6.


Malignant epidural spinal cord compression (MESCC) is an oncologic emergency with the potential for devastating consequences for patients if not promptly diagnosed and treated. MESCC is diagnosed by imaging. MRI is by far the most sensitive test, preferably with gadolinium. Once the diagnosis of MESCC is suspected, patients with neurologic deficits should receive prompt administration of dexamethasone with a 10-mg IV loading dose followed by 4 mg every 6 h. Quick taper is recommended once the definitive treatment is established. Consultation with medical oncology, radiation oncology, and neurosurgery is imperative in order to facilitate a multidisciplinary approach. Although spine surgery is the most effective method for relief of cord compression and is necessary if there is spinal instability, surgery is only used in selected patients because most patients have a poor overall condition and short life expectancy. Radiation therapy, therefore, is the most commonly used therapy for patients with MESCC after surgical decompression or in patients who are not surgical candidates. Conventional fractionated radiation alone can achieve modest neurologic outcomes in selected radiosensitive tumors. Radiosurgery techniques which deliver intense focal irradiation to a delimited area with imaging guidance and contoured radiation delivery to the shape of the tumor have recently emerged as increasing effective treatments in MESCC, especially in radioresistant tumors. Stereotactic radiosurgery and different radiation technologies have been studied in recent clinical trials.

Keywords: Corticosteroids; Malignant epidural spinal cord compression; Radiation; Stereotactic radiosurgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Multimodal Imaging / methods
  • Spinal Cord Compression / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Compression / etiology*
  • Spinal Cord Compression / therapy*
  • Spinal Cord Neoplasms / complications
  • Spinal Cord Neoplasms / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Neoplasms / secondary
  • Spinal Neoplasms / complications
  • Spinal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Spinal Neoplasms / secondary
  • Treatment Outcome