Radiotherapy alone is the most common treatment for metastatic epidural spinal cord compression (MESCC). Decompressive surgery followed by radiotherapy is generally indicated only in 10-15% of MESCC cases. Chemotherapy has an unclear role and may be considered for selected patients with hematological or germ-cell malignancies. If radiotherapy alone is given, it is important to select the appropriate regimen. Similar functional outcomes can be achieved with short-course radiotherapy regimens and longer-course radiotherapy regimens. Longer-course radiotherapy is associated with better local control of MESCC than short-course radiotherapy. Patients with a more favorable survival prognosis (expected survival of 6 months) should receive longer-course radiotherapy, as they may live long enough to develop a recurrence of MESCC. Patients with an expected survival of < 6 months should be considered for short-course radiotherapy. A recurrence of MESCC in the previously irradiated region after short-course radiotherapy may be treated with another short-course of radiotherapy. After primary administration of longer-course radiotherapy, decompressive surgery should be performed if indicated. Alternatively, re-irradiation can be performed using high-precision techniques to reduce the cumulative dose received by the spinal cord. Larger prospective trials are required to better define the appropriate treatment for the individual patient. © 2010 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.
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