Metastatic dissemination patterns of different primary tumors to the spine and other bones

  • Julia S. Onken
  • Lucius S. Fekonja
  • Romy Wehowsky
  • Vanessa Hubertus
  • Peter VajkoczyEmail author
Research Paper


Metastatic spine disease (MSD) is a severe event in cancer patients. Experimental data indicate that bone metastasis is mostly mediated by blood flow-dependent, passive arrest of circulating tumor cells to the bone metastatic niche (BMN). Here, we have set out to test these experimental observations in a clinical, human setting to improve our understanding of MSD. 507 patients, treated on spinal metastases in our institution from 2005 to  2015 were retrospectively evaluated. We identified 259 patients with accessible staging reports of the skeleton before and at initial diagnosis of MSD. Data analysis comprised localizations of bone metastases, underlying malignancy and time to development of MSD. Dissemination pattern of bone metastasis was correlated with red bone marrow (RBM) content of the respective bone as a measure of blood flow. Spinal metastases occurred most frequently in lung cancer (21%), prostate cancer (19%), and breast cancer (12%). At the diagnosis of MSD, majority of patients have multiple extra-spinal bone metastases (2/3). The distribution of metastases to extra-spinal bones and to the spine is mostly proportional to the RBM content of the involved bone. Corresponding to the high RBM content, thoracic spine, pelvic bones and ribs represent a predilection site for bone metastasis. We confirm a distinct preference of cancer types to metastasize to bones. When it comes to bone metastases all primaries show uniform distribution pattern, which supports the hypothesis of a predominantly blood flow-dependent distribution of tumor cells and passive arrest to the BMN rather than a spine-specific homing mechanism.


Spinal metastasis Dissemination Red bone marrow Blood-flow dependent dissemination 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10585_2019_9987_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (260 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (JPEG 260 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia S. Onken
    • 1
  • Lucius S. Fekonja
    • 1
  • Romy Wehowsky
    • 1
  • Vanessa Hubertus
    • 1
  • Peter Vajkoczy
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of NeurosurgeryUniversitätsmedizin ChariteBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Neurochirurgische KlinikUniversitätsmedizin ChariteBerlinGermany

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