Epidural Steroid Injections for the Management of Spinal Malignancy-Related Pain: A Pragmatic Review and Retrospective Study

Pain Pract. 2021 Mar;21(3):285-298. doi: 10.1111/papr.12957. Epub 2020 Nov 1.


Background: Spinal malignancy-related pain results from tumor, fracture, instability, inflammation, and/or nerve root/spinal cord compression. Systemic corticosteroids are commonly used but have many undesirable adverse effects that impact quality of life and continuation of cancer treatments. Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) may be a viable alternative pain treatment.

Objectives: This study starts with a pragmatic review on the efficacy of ESIs to treat spinal malignancy-related pain. Given the limited evidence, we supplement the study with a single-center, retrospective review.

Methods: A pragmatic review using PRISMA guidelines was conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE, SCOPUS, and Cochrane Review. Then, a retrospective chart review was performed.

Results: A pragmatic review yielded 10 patients who underwent ESI for spinal malignancy-related pain. Three patients had "excellent" relief (≥ 50% relief), who all received thoracic injections. This amounted to level IV evidence and an inconclusive recommendation (Grade C) as per Wright's criteria. In our retrospective review, all thoracic cases achieved at least "moderate" pain improvement (30% to 49% relief). 55.6% had "excellent" relief. Lumbosacral injections resulted in 86.0% with at least "moderate" relief and 69.8% with "excellent" relief. Caudal injections were less likely to benefit than lumbosacral injections (P = 0.02). The transforaminal approach resulted in the best relief. There were no adverse events.

Conclusions: There is inconclusive evidence to use ESIs to treat spinal malignancy-related pain in the current literature. Our retrospective review provides level III evidence for our conclusion that ESIs are safe and efficacious to treat spinal malignancy-related pain. Thoracic/lumbosacral injections led to significantly better pain relief compared with caudal injections.

Keywords: analgesia; cancer pain; epidural; oncologic pain; steroid injections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Epidural / methods
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Back Pain / drug therapy
  • Back Pain / etiology
  • Cancer Pain / drug therapy*
  • Cancer Pain / etiology
  • Humans
  • Injections, Epidural
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Quality of Life
  • Radiculopathy / drug therapy*
  • Radiculopathy / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Neoplasms / complications
  • Spinal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Spine
  • Steroids / administration & dosage*


  • Analgesics
  • Steroids