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Complications of spinal cord irradiation

Kevin Oh, MD
Section Editor
Lisa M DeAngelis, MD, FAAN, FANA
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Radiation therapy can cause toxicity to either the central or peripheral nervous system when these structures are included in the treatment field. Nervous system toxicity is usually subdivided into acute (during the course of radiation), early delayed (weeks to three months after radiation), and delayed reaction (more than three months).

Several syndromes of radiation injury to the spinal cord have been described, the most prominent of which are a self-limited transient myelopathy and the more serious chronic progressive myelopathy. Other more disabling manifestations of radiation injury, including acute paralysis secondary to ischemia, hemorrhage within the spinal cord, and a lower motor neuron syndrome, are much less common, with only a few case reports in the literature [1,2].

The complications that can occur following irradiation of the spinal cord will be reviewed here. Other relevant topics include:

Complications of cranial irradiation (see "Acute complications of cranial irradiation" and "Delayed complications of cranial irradiation")

Complications of irradiation of peripheral nerves (see "Brachial plexus syndromes", section on 'Neoplastic and radiation-induced brachial plexopathy' and "Lumbosacral plexus syndromes", section on 'Radiation plexopathy')

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 03, 2017.
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