Patients' Guide to Spinal Cancer

Olivia Newton-John Announces She Has Metastatic Spinal Cancer

The singer’s first battle with breast cancer was 25 years ago. Her latest diagnosis shows it has traveled to her spine.

After experiencing a recent bout of severe back pain and sciatica, Olivia Newton-John announced in May 2017 that she has breast cancer that metastasized to her spine. Newton-John postponed her June 2017 U.S. and Canadian concert dates so she could focus on treatment.

Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. In addition to undergoing chemotherapy, she pursued alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga, and massage to help manage her symptoms. Her current battle with breast cancer, which has metastasized to her sacrum, will also include natural therapies and a course of photon beam radiation therapy. This type of radiation therapy uses x-rays or gamma rays that travel from the body’s surface, then into the tumor, and through the body, according to the National Cancer Institute.

posterior view of the low back, sacrum and coccyxThe image depicts a posterior view of the lower back including the vertebrae (orange), sacrum (red) and coccyx (purple). The coccyx is also known as the tailbone.  

"I decided on my direction of therapies after consultation with my doctors and natural therapists and the medical team at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia,” said Newton-John, in a statement posted on her official Facebook page.

More About Metastatic Spinal Cancer
Metastatic spinal tumors are the most common type of spinal cancer, accounting for 70% of all spinal tumors. In metastatic tumors, cancer cells travel from the original site (the breast, in Newton-John’s case) through the blood or lymph system and form new tumors in another part of the body.

“Metastasis to the spine is common in patients with breast cancer,” says Ali A. Baaj, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College and member of the SpineUniverse Editorial Board.

While Newton-John’s cancer metastasized to her sacrum, metastatic spinal cancer can invade any part of the spine—from the bones to the nerves and spinal cord. Treatment typically involves radiation therapy, which Newton-John will undergo in addition to other integrative therapies.  

“Treatment becomes more challenging, as now distant sites have to be targeted,” Baaj says. “Systemic therapy, focal radiation, and, in select cases, surgery can be effective in containing metastatic disease.”

You can explore comprehensive information about spinal cancer, from the different types of spinal cancer to common treatments, in the Patients’ Guide to Spinal Cancer.

Updated on: 06/01/17
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Types of Radiation Therapy for Metastatic Spinal Tumors

If your doctor includes radiation therapy as part of your metastatic spine cancer treatment plan, he or she can choose from numerous delivery methods available today.
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