Spinal Tumors: Surgery and Recovery
Some spinal tumors, benign or malignant, require surgical intervention before or after non-operative treatments. When pain is unresponsive to non-operative treatment, neurologic deficit progresses, a specimen is needed, neural elements (e.g. nerves) are compressed, vertebral destruction exists, or when spinal stabilization is necessary - surgery is considered.
The primary goals in surgery are to reduce pain caused by the spinal tumor, restore or preserve neurologic function, and provide spinal stability. The spinal tumor may be approached surgically from the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the body.
Surgery may include tumor resection (partial removal) or excision (complete removal). When the tumor is removed (partially or completed) pain and neurologic problems may clear up.
Spinal instrumentation and Fusion are procedures used to reconstruct and stabilize the spine. These procedures join and solidify the level (or levels) where a spinal element (e.g. vertebral body) has been damaged or removed.
Instrumentation uses medically designed hardware such as rods, bars, wires, and screws. These devices hold the spine straight during fusion. Fusion is the adhesive process joining bony spinal elements.
The number of days spent the patient will spend in the hospital after surgery is partially dependent on the procedure(s) performed. Thereafter, the patient's care is monitored by periodical office visits and re-evaluation by the treating physician.
The patient's care is monitored by periodical office visits and re-evaluation by the treating physician. This is important because some tumors, benign or malignant, may reoccur.
Treatment may include radiation and/or chemotherapy. The side effects from radiation can be severe including reddened or painful skin at the treatment site, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Chemotherapy can cause similar side effects. However, many of these side effects can be treated with drugs.
Usually when the treatment period has ended, the symptoms clear up. Analgesics are given to control post-operative pain and cancer pain. Cancer pain may be difficult to control (e.g. 'break through pain'). A pain management specialist may provide assistance if conventional drugs (e.g. pill, skin patch) do not provide relief.
Any surgery, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy can drain the patient nutritionally. Therefore, a proper diet is important to regain strength, lost weight, and a measure of health. A professional nutritionist can provide guidance.
Depending on the extent of the surgery and the patient's medical status, a course of physical therapy may be prescribed. Through exercise and modalities the patient can build strength, endurance, and flexibility.