Objective: Vertebral compression fractures are common in multiple myeloma (MM). Modern treatment paradigms place emphasis on treatment with radiation, with surgery reserved for cases involving frank instability or severe neural compression. However, experience at the authors’ institution has led them to suspect a more prominent role for surgical intervention in some settings. The authors undertook the present study to better understand the incidence of MM in undiagnosed patients who require urgent surgery for pathological vertebral fracture.
Methods: The authors reviewed a prospectively collected database of all patients who underwent surgery with the senior author at their main hospital between June 1, 1998, and June 30, 2020. Patients admitted from the emergency room or after transfer from another hospital who then underwent surgery for pathological fracture during the same admission were included in the final analysis. Patients scheduled for elective surgery and those with previous cancer diagnoses were excluded.
Results: Forty-three patients were identified as having undergone urgent surgical decompression and/or stabilization for pathological fracture. Histopathology confirmed diagnosis of MM in 22 (51%) patients, lung metastasis in 5 (12%) patients, and breast metastasis in 4 (9%) patients. Twelve (28%) patients were diagnosed with other types of metastatic carcinoma or undifferentiated disease. Sixteen of 29 (55%) men and 6 of 14 (42%) women were diagnosed with MM (p = 0.02). Seventeen of 34 (50%) patients who underwent surgery for neurological deficit, 5 of 6 (83%) patients who underwent surgery for spinal instability, and 0 (0%) patients who underwent surgery for pain with impending spinal cord injury were diagnosed with MM (p = 0.12).
Conclusions: A majority of patients presenting to the authors’ hospital with no history of malignancy who required urgent surgery for pathological compression fracture were found to have MM or plasmacytoma. This disease process may affect a significant portion of patients requiring decompressive or stabilizing surgery for compression fracture in academic medical centers.