Spinal cancer treatments

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 7, 2022.

Treatments for spinal cancer vary depending on a number of factors, including the type, stage and location of the disease. Common treatments include:


Spinal cancer treatment at City of Hope sometimes involves surgery. We apply similar surgical strategies for brain tumors and spinal column tumors. The goal of spinal cancer surgery depends on several factors, including the location and grade of the tumor, and the symptoms present.

When the tumor is limited to one portion of the spinal column, we may perform surgery to remove the cancer. For metastatic spinal tumors, we may perform surgery to relieve symptoms. For example, we commonly use surgical strategies to treat spinal column compression and instability, and relieve pain. Spinal cancer surgery may also help remove tissue pressing against the spinal cord and nerves or to relieve the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid.

In the past, surgeries to address spinal tumors were relatively large. With advances in technology, we perform many of these surgeries in a minimally invasive fashion. Minimally invasive spinal surgeries allow you to get back on your feet and return to normal activities more quickly, with less pain. This also allows you to maintain your nutritional health and get back to treatment faster.

Learn more about neurosurgery


Our medical oncologists treat primary and metastatic spinal cancer with an aggressive and creative approach, selecting spinal cancer chemotherapy drugs and delivery methods based on your individual needs.

Chemotherapy drugs may be administered orally in pill form or injected into the vein. For some spinal tumors, drugs may be given directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. You may receive chemotherapy alone, or in combination with other spinal cancer treatments, such as surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Addressing side effects of spinal cancer chemotherapy

Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cancer cells. Yet, some healthy cells in the body also divide rapidly, like those in the hair follicles, mouth, stomach and bone marrow. When the drugs damage these healthy cells, the following chemotherapy side effects may result:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased risk of infection (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising and bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)

Before chemotherapy begins, your care team will meet with you to answer your questions and talk about what you can expect from treatment, including how we’ll help you manage chemotherapy side effects. For example, your doctor may prescribe certain drugs before and during treatment to combat nausea or prevent infection. We’ll also do routine blood tests to monitor your blood cell counts. Your doctor may also prescribe steroids to help improve neurologic functioning and increase appetite.

Supportive care therapies like nutrition therapy, naturopathic support, pain management and oncology rehabilitation may help reduce chemotherapy-related side effects and keep you strong so you can maintain your quality of life as much as possible during treatment.

Radiation therapy

We use highly targeted delivery systems that allow us to increase the dose and precision of radiation to a spinal tumor, while reducing damage to healthy tissue.

Spinal cancer radiation therapy is commonly used following surgical resection of a tumor, to destroy microscopic tumor cells left behind. It may also be an option for metastatic spinal tumors (tumors that have spread to the spine from another part of the body).

The specifics of your radiation regimen will be based on several factors, including the type and size of the spinal tumor and the extent of disease. External radiation therapy is commonly used for spinal cancer. The area radiated typically includes the tumor and an area surrounding the tumor. For metastatic spinal tumors, radiation is sometimes given to the entire spine.

Addressing spinal cancer radiation therapy side effects

Depending on your radiation dose, site and other factors, you may experience some side effects of radiation therapy, including fatigue, hair loss, skin irritation and nerve damage.

To reduce the side effects of radiation and help you maintain your strength and quality of life, your care team at City of Hope will proactively work with you to develop solutions based on your needs. For example, we may prescribe steroids to help reduce swelling, or blood thinners to dissolve blood clots and prevent them from traveling into the lungs.

You also have the option to receive supportive care services like nutrition therapy, naturopathic support, pain management, oncology rehabilitation and mind-body medicine. These therapies are designed to help to keep you strong so you can continue treatment while maintaining your quality of life.

Interventional radiology

With interventional radiology, our doctors can visualize tumors and perform real-time image-guided interventional procedures. We can take biopsies, deliver treatment directly to tumors, provide palliative treatment, and monitor your response to treatment.

Kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty are examples of minimally invasive procedures used to treat compression fractures of the spinal vertebrae caused by spinal cancer. Compression fractures of the spinal vertebrae can cause severe back pain, spinal deformity, and loss of height. Our doctors may perform kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty to rebuild cracked or collapsed vertebrae.

Both kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty involve a short surgical and recovery time, and may help to:

  • Relieve pain
  • Restore height
  • Strengthen the vertebra
  • Reduce spinal deformity
  • Stabilize fractures

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy for spinal cancer work to target specific pathways or abnormalities in spinal tumor cells involved in tumor growth. We will likely combine targeted therapy with other spinal cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. This treatment is often an option for spinal cancer patients who have a tumor recurrence after previous spinal cancer treatments.

One type of targeted therapy used for spinal tumors is a monoclonal antibody, which works to stop the formation of new blood vessels that a tumor needs to grow (a process known as angiogenesis).

Managing the side effects of spinal cancer targeted therapy

Targeted therapy can cause side effects, such as low blood counts, tiredness, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fluid buildup (usually in the legs). Throughout your spinal cancer treatment, your care team provides various supportive care services to keep you strong, reduce side effects and improve your quality of your life.

Next topic: What are the facts about spinal cancer?

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