Surgical Intervention vs. Radiation Therapy: The Shifting Paradigm in Treating Metastatic Spinal Disease

Cureus. 2018 Oct 3;10(10):e3406. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3406.


The spine is one of the most common sites to which metastatic cancer is likely to spread and is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in cancer patients. While no medical treatments have been definitively shown to extend the life expectancy of patients with spinal metastasis, interventional options may be the only viable option in improving outcomes. Currently, two main options exist: surgical resection and radiotherapy, with radiotherapy being the primary treatment modality. In this review, we discuss the research comparing the efficacy and outcomes of radiotherapy and surgical resection in treating spinal metastasis. We conclude that while radiosurgery will continue to remain a major treatment modality, surgical intervention has proven to have equal to or superior outcomes at improving function, symptoms, and life expectancy for patients with metastatic spinal disease and should be considered a primary modality in an expanding subset of patients.

Keywords: metastatic spinal disease; radiation therapy; spinal surgery; stereotactic body radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review