With the increasing effectiveness of immunotherapy and chemotherapy, patients with metastatic disease are surviving longer in much higher numbers. For many primary tumors (lung, breast, thyroid), a common site of metastases is the spine, giving rise to concomitant concerns regarding spine stability and the risk of neurologic compromise.
In the May 19, 2021 issue of JBJS, Alkalay et al. report the results of an in vitro study in which they simulated osteolytic defects in 3-level thoracic and lumbar segments of cadaveric spines. The simulations involved 2 patterns of lytic defects previously reported to be associated with increased risk of pathologic vertebral fracture: anterior-column compromise (40% of the vertebral body) and anterior plus middle-column compromise (extension of the model to include the ipsilateral pedicle and facet joint). The spinal segments were kinematically assessed in axial compression and axial compression with a flexion or extension moment, with testing before and after lesion simulation.
The authors concluded that “critical spinal lytic defects result in kinematic abnormalities and lower the compressive strength of the spine.” With greater lytic involvement, significantly higher translational motion along all 3 anatomic axes, and higher torsional and lateral-bending range of motion under axial compression with both flexion and extension moments were demonstrated.
The precision of the model in this cadaveric study was excellent. And the clinical implications of the findings are real: increasing lytic involvement of the vertebral body along with the pedicles could indicate impending instability, with the potential for neurologic injury. These data will be useful for surgeons and patients when formulating decisions regarding the need for intervention with fixation to limit flexion/extension forces in order to reduce pain and neurologic involvement. Future clinical data on the impact of these decisions in terms of pain and functional outcomes will be very valuable as we seek to optimize treatment of our patients with spinal metastatic disease.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD