People with cancer are at risk of it spreading to other parts of their body, including the spine (this is known as ‘spinal metastases‘). Spinal metastases can be painful and if not treated can lead to metastatic spinal cord compression (MSCC) – this is when the spinal metastases press on the nerves in the spine. MSCC is rare, but it can cause damage to the spinal cord and can lead to permanent paralysis.

This leaflet is not intended to scare you but to help you recognise the important symptoms of spinal metastases and MSCC. It is important to report your symptoms quickly as the earlier treatments are started the better the result usually is.

Symptoms to watch out for:

  • Pain or tenderness in the middle or top of your back or neck.
  • Severe pain in your lower back that is getting worse or doesn’t go away.
  • Pain in your back that is worse when you cough, sneeze or go to the toilet.
  • Back pain that stops you from sleeping.
  • A narrow band of pain down the arm or leg or around the body.
  • Numbness, weakness or difficulty using your arms or legs.
  • Bladder or bowel control problems.

If you have any of these symptoms:

  • Speak with your doctor, nurse or local hospital as soon as is practical (certainly within 24 hours). They will assess you, determine the relevant treatment and, if deemed appropriate, make a referral to the RNOH.
  • Tell them that you have cancer, are worried about your spine and would like to see a doctor.
  • Show the doctor this fact sheet.
  • Try to bend your back as little as possible