Many men with metastatic prostate cancer will suffer compression fractures in their spine. Since the spine is one of the most common sites for metastatic spread of the disease, the vertebrae often become brittle and at a very high risk for fractures. Hormone therapy and radiation therapy can also have a weakening effect on bone increasing the risk of these very debilitating fractures.

Professor Leonard Bastian from Klinikum Leverkusen in German led an international trial of a new technique to treat spinal compression fractures, called balloon kyphoplasty. Results of the trial were released at the 35th Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Milan.

“Balloon Kyphoplasty is defined as a minimally invasive surgical procedure. A surgeon inserts a small orthopedic balloon through a 1 cm incision into the fractured vertebra. Then the balloon is inflated to restore the shape and height of the vertebrae. The balloon is then deflated and removed. Then quick-setting bone cement is injected in the vertebral body restoring the shape and strength of the vertebrae.

Prof Bastian reported the results of the trial which included 134 patients randomly assigned to either balloon kyphoplasty (70 patients) or non-surgical management (64).

1)- Those who had the surgery showed improvements in a questionnaire designed to measure their level of disability at one month after surgery. They also experienced a significant improvement in back pain one week after surgery, while those who received non-surgical management saw no improvement.

2)- After one month, patients in the non-surgical arm of the study were allowed to receive balloon kyphoplasty. Thirty-eight chose to do so. All patients who underwent balloon kyphoplasty reported sustained improvements in quality of life for a year after treatment.

“Balloon kyphoplasty offers quick pain relief; restores patient activity and mobility and it gives an important improvement of quality of life,” Prof Bastian said. “It may be the right treatment option for vertebral compression fractures if conventional pain medication has not been effective or has too many side-effects.”

He went on to say that, “This study demonstrates balloon kyphoplasty should be considered when painful vertebral compression fractures occur in cancer patients. It is an additional therapy which can really add to the patient’s quality of life.”

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.