Dr. Arthur Jenkins was the first surgeon to use minimally invasive  techniques to control metastatic spinal tumors.


Jenkins, co-director of the neurosurgery Spine Program at Mount Sinai, sums up his job in three words: “I fix spines.” He performs spinal reconstructions, decompressions, stabilizations and deformity correction for the whole spectrum of spinal disorders.


Spinal metastases are cancers that originate elsewhere and spread to the spine. “Everyone who has cancer is at risk,” says Jenkins. “Ten percent of patients with cancer eventually develop spread to the spine.” With 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year, that means 150,000 of them may also develop a spinal tumor.

“Lung, breast and prostate cancers are all tumors that are common, and therefore are common causes of spread to the spine,” says Jenkins. “Any cancer can spread to other parts of the body.” tumors that originate in the spine have a different prognosis, and doctors often try to remove the whole cancer in hopes of a cure. “Whereas metastatic cancers tend to be incurable but significantly manageable,” says Jenkins. “the question is, ‘How can we manage [patients’] disease to give them the longest quality of life?’ ”

As for risk factors: “Things that predispose you to having a cancer in the first place — like smoking, hepatitis, exposure to carcinogens, infection and environmental factors — also predispose you to having a metastatic tumor,” says Jenkins. Age can also be a factor, because the longer you live, the more likely you are to have some kind of cancer.


The major warning signs of spinal metastases are pain, weakness and instability. “Any new neurological symptoms or new pain, especially in a cancer survivor, should be evaluated by a clinician to make sure it’s not a spread to the spine,” says Jenkins. Commonly, pain will occur when walking or bearing weight. Other symptoms include difficulty controlling how well you go to the bathroom, and pain that goes down the legs, back or arms.

Although spinal metastases go undiagnosed in some people, most doctors are vigilant about watching cancer survivors for new symptoms. “If patients follow up with their clinicians and their clinicians do a thorough examination, usually they get taken care of pretty quickly,” says Jenkins.


Cancers that have spread to the spine are usually past the point of curing. However, that does not mean treatment is unnecessary. “The big problem is that spinal metastases will grow without any resistance and erode the spinal bones or compress the surrounding structures,” says Jenkins. “That can cause pain, weakness and paraplegia.”


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