The Dancing Cord: Inherent Spinal Cord Motion and Its Effect on Cord Dose in Spine Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy

Neurosurgery. 2020 Nov 16;87(6):1157-1166. doi: 10.1093/neuros/nyaa202.


Background: Spinal cord dose limits are critically important for the safe practice of spine stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT). However, the effect of inherent spinal cord motion on cord dose in SBRT is unknown.

Objective: To assess the effects of cord motion on spinal cord dose in SBRT.

Methods: Dynamic balanced fast field echo (BFFE) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was obtained in 21 spine metastasis patients treated with SBRT. Planning computed tomography (CT), conventional static T2-weighted MRI, BFFE MRI, and dose planning data were coregistered. Spinal cord from the dynamic BFFE images (corddyn) was compared with the T2-weighted MRI (cordstat) to analyze motion of corddyn beyond the cordstat (Dice coefficient, Jaccard index), and beyond cordstat with added planning organ at risk volume (PRV) margins. Cord dose was compared between cordstat, and corddyn (Wilcoxon signed-rank test).

Results: Dice coefficient (0.70-0.95, median 0.87) and Jaccard index (0.54-0.90, median 0.77) demonstrated motion of corddyn beyond cordstat. In 62% of the patients (13/21), the dose to corddyn exceeded that of cordstat by 0.6% to 13.8% (median 4.3%). The corddyn spatially excursed outside the 1-mm PRV margin of cordstat in 9 patients (43%); among these dose to corddyn exceeded dose to cordstat >+ 1-mm PRV margin in 78% of the patients (7/9). Corddyn did not excurse outside the 1.5-mm or 2-mm PRV cord cordstat margin.

Conclusion: Spinal cord motion may contribute to increases in radiation dose to the cord from SBRT for spine metastasis. A PRV margin of at least 1.5 to 2 mm surrounding the cord should be strongly considered to account for inherent spinal cord motion.

Keywords: Ablative radiotherapy; MR imaging; Motion; Organ motion; Patient positioning; Secondary spine metastasis; Spinal cord; Spinal cord physiology; Spinal neoplasms; Stereotactic radiation therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Radiosurgery*
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted
  • Spinal Cord
  • Spinal Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Spinal Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Spine