Spinal tumors affect a critical piece of anatomy, and their treatment has the potential for lifelong impacts on function and quality of life. To optimize outcomes, our experts coordinate care in a multidisciplinary environment, meeting regularly to discuss individual cases and develop personalized treatment plans. Appointments with care team members are scheduled together as often as possible for patients’ convenience and comfort.
Treatment for spinal cancer and spinal tumors will differ based on the tumor type, aggressiveness and many other factors. Your treatment options may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, full or partial surgical removal of the tumor, immunotherapy or medications and lifestyle management techniques to help with swelling and back pain.
State-of-the-Art Surgical Techniques for Spinal Tumors
Surgery can help decrease the size of tumors pressing on the spine or spinal cord and can sometimes remove them completely. Johns Hopkins has been an early adopter of several technologies that have made surgery for spinal tumors safer and more effective. For example, many surgeries now incorporate image guidance, a type of “surgical GPS” that allows surgeons to navigate through patients’ anatomy in real time during operations. This tool makes it easier to effectively remove tumors while also sparing healthy tissue. Additionally, an increasing number of spinal tumor surgeries can be done using minimally invasive techniques. This can reduce the risk of some complications from surgery and speed recovery.
Targeted Therapy to Treat the Primary Tumors
Many spinal tumors result from metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from another location. Several drugs now exist to treat these primary tumors in a targeted way based on the tumor’s unique genetic signature. These drugs also can be used to treat tumors that originate in the spine. Our physician scientists are leading the way with immunotherapy in the Bloomberg ~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and our medical oncologists often prescribe drugs that target specific mutations to fight secondary tumors on the spine.
High-Tech Radiation Therapies
Radiation therapy uses focused beams of energy to shrink tumors or control their growth. The Spinal Tumor Multidisciplinary Program uses a variety of tools to effectively deliver radiation to target tissues while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Cyberknife – a system that can deliver radiation with extreme accuracy
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy – which can deliver high doses of radiation to tumors while keeping the spinal cord at a safe distance
- Image-guided intensity-modulated radiation therapy – which uses images taken in real time to mold the radiation beam to the tumor
- Brachytherapy – a technique in which radioactive pellets are placed directly in a tumor, where they deliver strong radiation directly to the cancer, sparing nearby healthy tissue
- Proton Therapy – a technique that delivers radiation with programmable intensity that peaks at the location of the tumor. This will be offered at the Johns Hopkins Proton Therapy Center, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.