Spinal Tumor Center

The Washington University Spinal Tumor Center provides comprehensive, specialized care to patients with tumors of the spine. Led by Matthew Goodwin, MD, PhD, the Spinal Tumor Center welcomes patients from all over the country and world for complex spinal surgery.  

Our Team and Philosophy
Tumors of the spine and spinal cord present surgeons with unique challenges that require very specific specialty training. For patients with tumors that present originating or invading the bones of the spine, we employ a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach that often involves discussions with our colleagues in radiation oncology, medical oncology, musculoskeletal radiology, and with our colleagues in neurosurgery and orthopaedic surgery that specialize in treating these unique tumors of the bone.  We work together to provide a comprehensive, up-to-date, and complete treatment plan for your specific spinal disease. Patients come from all over the world to get treated at our spine tumor center, and our spine tumor surgeons are national and international leaders in the treatment of spinal tumors.  Despite this success, we remain humbled and honored to serve our patients who often see us at one of the most difficult and trying times of their lives.  

Tumors in the Bones of the Spine
Spinal tumors can be broadly classified into two categories: metastatic spinal tumors and primary spinal tumors. Metastatic spinal tumors originate somewhere else in the body (for example, the breast, lung, prostate, or kidney) and spread to the spine, where they can cause pain, instability, fractures and/or compression of the spinal cord or nerves. Despite advancements in cancer care, metastatic spinal tumors are very common. Of the 1.2 million patients that are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, between 10 and 30% will have symptomatic spread of cancer to the bones of the spine when they are diagnosed. The types of cancer that are most likely to result in spinal metastases include breast cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and thyroid cancer. Additionally, we often care for patients with multiple myeloma or lymphomas in the bones of the spine.

Unlike metastatic spinal tumors, primary spinal tumors originate from the actual spine itself. These tumors are quite rare, accounting for approximately 10% of all bone tumors, and only 0.04% of all tumors. Among this rare group of tumors, we specialize in treating both the “common” primary tumors of the spine (for example Chordoma, Chondrosarcoma, Osteosarcoma), and the very “uncommon” primary tumors of the spine (for example Fibrocartilaginous Mesenchymoma – 5 total cases reported in the literature). We also care for many of the benign primary spinal tumors, including osteoid osteomas, osteoblastomas, aneurysmal bone cysts, and giant cell tumors. 

Surgical Intervention
Although many metastatic spinal tumors can be treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy, many metastatic spinal tumors require surgical treatment. Depending on the severity of cancer involvement, surgery can range from a minimally invasive procedure such as cement augmentation to prevent or treat a fracture (i.e. vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty) to a complex surgical reconstruction. As surgical techniques have improved over the years, surgery for metastatic spinal tumors has become more common. Unlike metastatic spinal tumors, many of which will not require a surgery, the vast majority of malignant primary spinal tumors require surgical treatment. Benign primary spinal tumors also frequently require surgical intervention, although sometimes they can be treated nonoperatively.

For a consultation, please contact the Spinal Tumors Center by calling 314-514-3500 during normal business hours.

Treatment Approach

Historically, patients diagnosed with spinal tumors have been required to coordinate their care from a variety of sources while confronting an uncertain future and a confusing array of choices. The Washington University Spinal Tumor Center provides comprehensive, specialized care to patients with tumors of the spine. The center provides the expertise and comprehensive care necessary to effectively treat these complex situations with radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or some combination as appropriate. Your case will likely be presented at our multidisciplinary spine tumor conference, where experts in radiation oncology, orthopedic spinal surgery, neurosurgical spinal surgery, interventional radiology, and others meet to discuss the optimal treatment and coordination of care based on the most up-to-date literature and your specific desires. We look forward to meeting you and taking care of you during this often unanticipated time in your life.

For a consultation, please contact the Spinal Tumor Center by calling 314-514-3500 during normal business hours.

Meet Our Team

Matthew Goodwin, MD, PhD, FACSM

Matthew L. Goodwin, MD, PhD, FACS

Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
Director, Spinal Tumors Center

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Jacob Buchowski, MD, MS

Lawrence G. and Elizabeth A. Lenke Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Professor of Neurological Surgery
Vice-Chair, Orthopaedic Surgery
Co-Chief, Spine Division

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Research & Clinical Trials

Dr. Buchowski is currently conducting research on functional and radiographic outcomes following surgical treatment of spinal tumors. In addition, Dr. Buchowski, in collaboration with physicians at the Siteman Cancer Center, is conducting research on novel radiation therapy treatments and their role in management of spinal tumors.

Dr. Goodwin also runs a basic science lab investigating the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer growth. Specifically, his work focuses on the transport of lactate and its role in tumorigenesis, with an overall goal of developing more targeted, effective, and less toxic treatments for spinal tumors.

For information on current clinical trials related to orthopedics, or to make an appointment with a specialist at Washington University Orthopedics, please call (314) 514-3500 or toll free (866) 867-3627.

Patient Stories

Tia Gundlach - Multiple Myeloma and Spinal Tumor

A diagnosis of multiple myeloma lead Tia Gundlach to spinal surgeon Matthew Goodwin, MD. The cancer had collapsed a vertebra at the base of her neck, causing pain and numbness from a pinched nerve. Dr. Goodwin stepped in to remove the cancerous tumor and stabilize the spine. “Dr. Goodwin is my hero – he saved my life. During surgery, the cancer wouldn’t stop bleeding and I needed three pints of blood. Dr. Goodwin never gave up. He saved my life,” says Tia.

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