Arterial embolization reduces blood loss in patients undergoing surgery for hypervascular spinal tumors. The objectives of this study were twofold: 1) to evaluate the role of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in predicting tumor vascularity and 2) to assess the effectiveness of preoperative embolization in devascularizing these tumors.

Fifty-one patients with metastatic spinal neoplasms underwent angiography, preoperative embolization, and excision of the lesion between 1995 and 2000. The MR imaging studies were correlated with tumor vascularity on angiograms. Embolization was angiographically graded on a five-point scale ranging from no embolization (Grade A) to total embolization (Grade E). The embolization grade was correlated with intraoperative blood loss. The mean age was 57 years, the male/female ratio was 1.2:1, and back pain was present in all patients. Metastatic renal cell carcinoma (30 cases) and thoracic spine involvement (33 cases) were most frequent. The positive predictive value of MR imaging in determining tumor vascularity was 77%, whereas the negative predictive value was 21%. Total embolization (Grade E) was achieved in 34 patients. A shared vascular pedicle between a radiculomedullary artery (RMA) and a tumor diminished the likelihood of complete embolization (p = 0.02). Small asymptomatic cerebellar infarctions were demonstrated in two cases. The mean intraoperative blood loss was 2,586 ml. Following Grade D or E embolization, intraoperative bleeding was largely related to unembolized epidural veins.

Tumor histology and MR imaging findings are predictive of hypervascularity, however, hypervascular tumors may not be detected by standard MR imaging sequences. Superselective catheterization permits Grade D or E embolization in 80% of patients. Shared blood supply with an RMA is the most important factor precluding complete embolization.