Duke's spine and cancer experts work together to find the best strategy to treat your tumor and speed up your recovery. We treat the full range of spine cancers, including chordoma, primary and metastatic spinal column tumors, and spinal cord tumors.
Care for your spine cancer
Most cases of spine cancer are metastatic cancer — meaning they have spread from another part of the body already affected by cancer. Our doctors develop a treatment plan designed just for you and the type of tumor you have. We base our treatments on input from our spine and cancer specialists, who develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient. As a team, we recommend the best course of action for you that may involve radiation oncology, surgery or radiosurgery.
Choose Duke for your spine cancer care because we offer:
- Surgical expertise. Removing delicate spinal cord tumors requires a great deal of experience and precision. We have the leading spine surgery team in the state. We perform more than 1,200 spine surgeries every year.
- Reputation for excellence. Our program combines the expertise of specialists in our spine and cancer programs. Our cancer program is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the best cancer program in North Carolina and one of the top nationwide.
- Precise diagnosis. Diagnosing spine cancer involves pinpointing the exact location of your spinal tumor, its type, and how advanced it is. We use advanced imaging tests and minimally invasive biopsy to get accurate, fast results that allow us to plan and start your treatment as soon as possible.
- Team approach. Each individual on our team of specialists plays a role to ensure your spinal tumor shrinks or is removed. We take every precaution to reduce your risk of the tumor recurring. Your care team includes surgeons, radiation oncologists, medication oncologists and radiosurgery specialists — all of whom may play a role in your treatment.
- Intraoperative imaging technology. We offer advanced, intraoperative capabilities with CT and MRI. That means our surgeons use detailed, real-time 3-D pictures of your spine to guide them so they surgically remove your spinal tumor with precision.
- Support to you and your family. Our comprehensive support services range from helping patients minimize the side effects of cancer treatment to coping with the emotional and psychological effects of diagnosis and treatment. View all of our cancer support groups in our event calendar.
Treatment for all types of spinal column tumors depends on the tumor type, where it is located, and your symptoms. With certain types of small tumors, we may recommend a watch-and-wait approach. In most cases, we recommend radiation therapy alone or with surgery.
High-energy beams target the tumor to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for some tumors that affect the spinal cord and spinal column. In other cases, such as chordoma, we may recommend post-operative radiation after we remove your tumor to minimize the chances that it may recur.
An outpatient procedure that targets X-ray beams directly on your spinal tumor to reduce its size and eliminate pain it may cause. Because it is a minimally invasive procedure, radiosurgery is a quick and painless option. Most patients are done in about an hour and only require one treatment.
Surgically removing your spinal tumor is often the best course of treatment. We have experience successfully removing the delicate lesions on your spinal column or spinal cord. With chordoma, our approach takes care to remove the tumor in one piece. Removing as much of the tumor as possible — and keeping the tumor intact — is key for optimal results. It increases your chances of long-term remission of your cancer. We may recommend radiation therapy before surgery to shrink your tumor, or afterward to prevent your cancer from recurring.
To determine whether you have spine cancer, your doctor will perform a physical exam. You may also have the following tests:
A tissue sample from your spine is tested for cancer. An imaging test, such as X-ray, guides the needle used during the minimally invasive biopsy. This approach gives precise results without the need for an incision.
Takes pictures of bones inside your body. X-rays show any areas of instability in your spine. Because X-rays only show bones, and not discs or nerves, another imaging test is usually needed.
Magnets and radio waves are used to take detailed pictures of your spinal discs and the nerve roots of your spinal cord.
A series of cross-sectional pictures produce detailed, 3-D images of your spine and spinal cord.
Injects a dye into the sac around the nerve roots in your spinal cord to help them show up better on a CT scan.
A radioactive tracer is injected into your vein to detect signs of cancer in your bones. A special camera that detects radiation takes pictures of your spine to show how much of the tracer has collected in your bones.
A radioactive tracer collects in organs and tissues, making them show up better in images. A scanner takes 3-D pictures of your spine that highlight the location of tumors.