Decisions for operative or nonoperative management remain challenging for patients with spinal metastases, especially when life expectancy and quality of life are not easily predicted. This study evaluated the effects of operative and nonoperative management on maintenance of ambulatory function and survival for patients treated for spinal metastases.
Propensity matching was used to yield an analytic sample in which operatively and nonoperatively treated patients were similar with respect to key baseline covariates. The study included patients treated for spinal metastases between 2005 and 2017 who were 40 to 80 years old, were independent ambulators at presentation, and had fewer than 5 medical comorbidities. It evaluated the influence of operative care and nonoperative care on ambulatory function 6 months after presentation as the primary outcome. Survival at 6 months and survival at 1 year were secondary outcomes.
Nine hundred twenty-nine individuals eligible for inclusion were identified, with 402 (201 operative patients and 201 nonoperative patients) retained after propensity score matching. Patients treated operatively had a lower likelihood than those treated nonoperatively of being nonambulatory 6 months after presentation (3% vs 16%; relative risk [RR], 0.16; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.06-0.46) as well as a reduced risk of 6-month mortality (20% vs 29%; RR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.49-0.98).
These results indicate that in a group of patients with similar demographic and clinical characteristics, those treated operatively were less likely to lose ambulatory function 6 months after presentation than those managed nonoperatively. For patients with spinal metastases, our data can be incorporated into discussions about the treatments that align best with patients’ preferences regarding surgical risk, mortality, and ambulatory status.