As a prelude to further work which attempts to improve the management of metastatic spinal cord compression the efficacy and adverse effects of existing therapy has been assessed. All papers dealing with the management of malignant spinal cord compression since 1960 have been reviewed. Data from this review is presented in a novel manner in order to identify not only the degree of successful return to ambulation achieved but more importantly the extent of the adverse effects which occur during existing management. It is seen that, while in general some 35% of patients treated in any manner retain or return to the ability to walk, some 20% to 25% sustain major neurological deterioration. In addition, those patients treated by laminectomy who do deteriorate may be subject to a significant rate of perioperative mortality and major structural complications related to the surgical wounds. In the light of the adverse factors described, the role of laminectomy as first-line management of malignant cord compression is questioned. Alternative modes of treatment are discussed and a tentative scheme of management described which it is hoped will lead to a better quality of survival of the group as a whole in addition to maintaining, or perhaps, improving the rate of successful return to ambulation.
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