A retrospective chart review was performed.

To determine whether preoperative spinal radiation increases the number of major wound complications in patients with cancer who have symptomatic spinal cord compression.

Many factors have increased the number of patients hospitalized with symptomatic spinal cord compression after spinal irradiation. The surgical management of metastatic spinal cord compression may be complicated by preoperative radiation.

A retrospective review of 123 patients admitted with symptomatic metastatic spinal cord compression from 1970 through 1996 was conducted. The final study population of 85 patients was separated into three treatment groups: 1) radiation only, 2) radiation followed by surgery, and 3) de novo surgery followed by radiation.

The major wound complication rate for patients who had radiation before surgical decompression and stabilization was 32%, or threefold, higher than the 12% observed in patients who had de novo surgery (P < 0.05). No other clinical factor or condition predicted the development of a major wound complication. Patients treated initially with surgery had superior functional outcomes in an analysis stratified by Frankel grade (P < 0.05). Of the ambulatory patients who underwent de novo surgery, 75% remained ambulatory and continent 30 days after treatment, whereas only 50% of those treated with radiation before surgery had similar outcomes.

Spinal radiation before surgical decompression for metastatic spinal cord compression is associated with a significantly higher major wound complication rate. In addition, preoperative spinal irradiation might adversely affect the surgical outcome.

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