Carbon ion radiotherapy effective for treating inoperable spinal tumours

20 August 2013

A new study has shown that carbon ion radiotherapy can control cancer growth and prolong survival in patients with spinal tumours. It shows the treatment is a promising alternative for patients whose spinal tumours cannot be surgically removed.

Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for spinal sarcomas; however the tumours are one of the most challenging diseases for orthopaedic surgeons. In addition, some patients are not candidates for surgery due to the location of the tumour and/or the patient's condition. In these cases, radiation therapy is generally used.

Carbon ion radiotherapy is a type of radiation therapy that is known to be effective for treating various types of inoperable sarcomas, which are tumours that arise from connective tissue. Using carbon ions to target radiation to the tumour, the treatment is minimally invasive, has little effect on adjacent healthy tissues, and has the potential to preserve patients’ quality of life.

To investigate the effectiveness and safety of carbon ion radiotherapy for inoperable spinal sarcomas, Reiko Imai, MD, PhD, of the Research Center Hospital for Charged Particle Therapy at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan, and her colleagues studied the outcomes of 47 patients who received the treatment between 1996 and 2011.

In 79% of patients, tumour growth was controlled for at least five years. Also, 52% of patients survived for at least five years (with 48% of patients surviving that long without experiencing cancer progression).

None of the 15 patients with tumours that were smaller than 100 cm3 had a cancer recurrence. No fatal toxicities occurred from the treatment, although one patient had a skin reaction, seven patients experienced vertebral compression salvaged by surgical intervention, and one developed a spinal cord reaction. Twenty-two of the 28 patients who were alive at the last follow-up appointment could walk without supportive devices.

“This report is the first one regarding spinal sarcomas treated with carbon ion radiotherapy, and our findings offer a treatment alternative to patients with inoperable tumours,” said Dr Imai.


Matsumoto K, et al. and the Working Group for Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas. Impact of Carbon Ion Radiotherapy for Primary Spinal Sarcoma. Cancer. Published Online: August 12, 2013 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.28177).


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