Stabilization of Tumor-Associated Craniovertebral Junction Instability

Neurosurgery 81:251–258, 2017

Whether primary or metastatic, tumors of the craniovertebral junction (CVJ) are rare and challenging.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the surgical indications, operative variables, and outcomes in patients with tumors of the CVJ undergoing occipitocervical (OC) stabilization.

METHODS: A single-institution, retrospective case series was performed from a prospectively maintained spine database. Patients with primary or metastatic tumors of the CVJ who underwent OC stabilization were identified. Out of 46 patients who underwent OC fusion, 39 were for tumor. Paired t-tests and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests were performed to assess for postoperative changes.

RESULTS: Ten patients (26%) harbored primary tumors, and the remaining 29 (74%) had metastatic disease. Of the metastatic patients, 14 had a neurological deficit, 10 had severe neck pain, and 5 were deemed mechanically unstable. Postoperative visual analog pain scoreswere significantly reduced at all 3 follow-up times (P<.001, 95% confidence interval [CI; 3.2, 6.0]; P = .001, 95% CI [2.6, 7.7]; P = .020, 95% CI [0.6, 5.5]). The percentage of patients who were ambulatory and neurologically improved or intact remained stable postoperatively with no significant declines. There were 2 perioperative mortalities (5%), and 13 patients (33%) experienced a major complication.

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with primary or metastatic tumor of the CVJ, OC stabilization using a cervical screw-rod system affixed to a midline-keel buttress plate, with or without posterior decompression, is a reliable method for CVJ stabilization in the oncologic setting. Improvement in pain and preservation of neurological function was seen.