Chemotherapy for Spinal Tumors

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Chemotherapy is often part of a multi-disciplinary approach to treat cancerous (malignant) tumors. The most common types of cancerous spinal tumors develop from cancers that have spread (metastasized) from the breast, lung, kidney, or prostate.Patients Undergoing ChemotherapyChemotherapy may benefit you overall, and therefore, your doctor may recommend this as part of your cancer treatment plan. Photo Source: chemotherapy is beneficial in the treatment of cancer in general, it is not helpful for spinal tumors1. However, it may benefit you overall, and therefore, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy as part of your cancer treatment plan.

Most people, when they hear chemotherapy, immediately think of side effects. Granted, patients can experience different side effects from chemo; however, chemotherapy-related symptoms can be managed. Some side effects are only temporary. Common controllable side effects include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, and low blood cell count.

The Goal of Chemotherapy

The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy slow and fast growing cancer cells. Some healthy cells are destroyed, too, because chemo drugs cannot distinguish a cancer cell from a healthy cell. Chemo may help control the progression of cancer, too.

Chemo Drug Choice

Your doctor (most likely your oncologist, a cancer specialist) selects the drug or drugs to be administered and maps out a treatment plan. Because cancer cells reproduce and grow at different rates, one drug may be more effective than another. You may start out on one chemo drug and switch or add another drug at a different time during treatment.

The duration of chemotherapy depends on many factors, such as the type of cancer, its stage (tumor size, location, has it metastasized), and your general health. Different chemo drugs may be administered at varying times and intervals.

How Chemotherapy is Administered

Depending on the chemotherapy drug, treatment is administered by pill (oral), injection, or intravenously (through a vein). Some patients receive a vascular access device (VAD). A VAD is implanted into a large vein near the heart and provides a long-term port or catheter through which chemo drugs are delivered.

Chemotherapy may be administered before or after spine surgery to remove the spinal tumor2.

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: This is the type of chemotherapy administered before surgery. The goal is to shrink the tumor.
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy: This is administered after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells.


Chemotherapy is one of the most powerful cancer treatments. Although the side effects can be harsh and difficult to handle, ask your oncologist about ways to manage the severity of treatment side effects. Remember, chemotherapy can help cure cancer and keep it from spreading.

Updated on: 07/25/19
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Common Spinal Tumor Questions
George I. Jallo, MD
Medical Director
Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery
Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
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