Intramedullary spinal cord metastasis: report of three cases and review of the literature

Surg Neurol. 1996 Oct;46(4):329-37; discussion 337-8. doi: 10.1016/s0090-3019(96)00162-0.


Background: Intramedullary spinal cord metastasis is rare; but it is being encountered with increasing frequency. Optimal treatment after diagnosis remains controversial.

Methods: In the last 3 years, we have encountered three cases of intramedullary metastasis presenting as focal mass lesions with minimal systemic evidence of cancer. We present our results in these patients and review the literature in an effort to more optimally define both the natural course of this disease, as well as a potential subset of patients who might benefit from more aggressive treatment.

Results: With the availability of more sensitive imaging techniques, these tumors are being diagnosed with increasing frequency. Magnetic resonance imaging is sensitive, but nonspecific, in distinguishing intramedullary spinal cord metastases from primary cord tumors. Urgent biopsy is often necessary prior to definitive treatment. Radiation with chemotherapy significantly prolongs survival. Radical subtotal resection may offer additional quality survival, especially in cases of metastatic melanoma with an occult primary.

Conclusions: Regardless of treatment, many patients survive less than 1 year. Intramedullary spinal cord metastasis is a devastating condition, but with appropriate diagnosis and aggressive treatment, selected patients may have substantially increased survival.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Male
  • Medulla Oblongata / pathology*
  • Medulla Oblongata / surgery
  • Melanoma / secondary*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Cord Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Neoplasms / surgery