Metastatic extradural spinal cord compression (MESCC) is treated with radiotherapy, corticosteroids, and surgery, but there is uncertainty regarding their comparative effects. This is an updated version of the original Cochrane review published in theCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Issue 4, 2008).
To determine the efficacy and safety of radiotherapy, surgery and corticosteroids in MESCC.
In March 2015, we updated previous searches (July 2008 and December 2013) of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, LILACS, CANCERLIT, clinical trials registries, conference proceedings, and references, without language restrictions. We also contacted experts for relevant published, unpublished and ongoing trials.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of radiotherapy, surgery and corticosteroids in adults with MESCC.
Three authors independently screened and selected trials, assessed risk of bias, and extracted data. We sought clarifications from trial authors. Where possible, we pooled relative risks with their 95% confidence intervals, using a random effects model if heterogeneity was significant. We assessed overall evidence-quality using the GRADE approach.
This update includes seven trials involving 876 (723 evaluable) adult participants (19 to 87 years) in high-income countries. Most were free of the risk of bias. Different radiotherapy doses and schedulesTwo equivalence trials in people with MESCC and a poor prognosis evaluated different radiotherapy doses and schedules. In one, a single dose (8 Gray (Gy)) of radiotherapy (RT) was as effective as short-course RT (16 Gy in two fractions over one week) in enhancing ambulation in the short term (65% versus 69%; risk ratio (RR) was 0.93, (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.82 to 1.04); 303 participants; moderate quality evidence). The regimens were also equally effective in reducing analgesic and narcotic use (34% versus 40%; RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.16; 271 participants), and in maintaining urinary continence (90% versus 87%; RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.1; 303 participants) in the short term (moderate quality evidence). In the other trial, split-course RT (30 Gy in eight fractions over two weeks) was no different from short-course RT in enhancing ambulation (70% versus 68%; RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.9 to 1.15; 276 participants); reducing analgesic and narcotic use (49% versus 38%; RR 1.27, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.67; 262 participants); and in maintaining urinary continence (87% versus 90%; RR 0.97, 0.93 to 1.02; 275 participants) in the short term (moderate quality evidence). Median survival was similar with the three RT regimens (four months). Local tumour recurrence may be more common with single-dose compared to short-course RT (6% versus 3%; RR 2.21, 95% CI 0.69 to 7.01; 303 participants) and with short-course compared to split-course RT (4% versus 0%; RR 0.1, 95% CI 0.01 to 1.72; 276 participants), but these differences were not statistically significant (low quality evidence). Gastrointestinal adverse effects were infrequent with the three RT regimens (moderate quality evidence), and serious adverse events or post-radiotherapy myelopathy were not noted.We did not find trials comparing radiotherapy schedules in people with MESCC and a good prognosis. Surgery plus radiotherapy compared to radiotherapyLaminectomy plus RT offered no advantage over RT in one small trial with 29 participants (very low quality evidence). In another trial that was stopped early for apparent benefit, decompressive surgery plus RT resulted in better ambulatory rates (84% versus 57%; RR 1.48, 95% CI 1.16 to 1.90; 101 participants, low quality evidence). Narcotic use may also be lower, and bladder control may also be maintained longer than with than RT in selected patients (low quality evidence). Median survival was longer after surgery (126 days versus 100 days), but the proportions surviving at one month (94% versus 86%; RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.24; 101 participants) did not differ significantly (low quality evidence). Serious adverse events were not noted. Significant benefits with surgery occurred only in people younger than 65 years. High dose corticosteroids compared to moderate dose or no corticosteroidsData from three small trials suggest that high-dose steroids may not differ from moderate-dose or no corticosteroids in enhancing ambulation (60% versus 55%; RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.45; 3 RCTs, 105 participants); survival over two years (11% versus 10%; RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.24 to 5.05; 1 RCT, 57 participants); pain reduction (78% versus 91%; RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.20; 1 RCT, 25 participants); or urinary continence (63% versus 53%; RR 1.18, 95% CI 0.66 to 2.13; 1 RCT, 34 participants; low quality evidence). Serious adverse effects were more frequent with high-dose corticosteroids (17% versus 0%; RR 8.02, 95% CI 1.03 to 62.37; 2 RCTs, 77 participants; moderate quality evidence).None of the trials reported satisfaction with care or quality of life in participants.
Based on current evidence, ambulant adults with MESCC with stable spines and predicted survival of less than six months will probably benefit as much from one dose of radiation (8 Gy) as from two doses (16 Gy) or eight doses (30 Gy). We are unsure if a single dose is as effective as two or more doses in preventing local tumour recurrence. Laminectomy preceding radiotherapy may offer no benefits over radiotherapy alone. Decompressive surgery followed by radiotherapy may benefit ambulant and non-ambulant adults younger than 65 years of age, with poor prognostic factors for radiotherapy, a single area of compression, paraplegia for less than 48 hours, and a predicted survival of more than six months. We are uncertain whether high doses of corticosteroids offer any benefits over moderate doses or indeed no corticosteroids; but high-dose steroids probably significantly increases the risk of serious adverse effects. Early detection; and treatment based on neurological status, age and estimated survival, are crucial with all treatment modalities. Most of the evidence was of low quality. High-quality evidence from more trials is needed to clarify current uncertainties, and some studies are in progress.