Cervical Stabilization in Patients with Instability Resulting from Osteoradionecrosis with Subsequent Spondylodiscitis After Radiotherapeutic Treatment for Head- and Neck Carcinoma

  • L. L. Eenhuis
  • H. P. Bijl
  • J. M. A. Kuijlen
  • J. WedmanEmail author
Original Article


High dose of radiation to bone may cause necrosis. Osteoradionecrosis of the cervical vertebrae is a rare adverse event of radiotherapy in patients treated for head and neck cancer. The risk on osteoradionecrosis will increase with doses exceeding 60 Gy. Minimal trauma of the overlying mucosa of the heavily irradiated cervical spine causes subsequent infections or instability may cause neck pain and severe neurological disability. In four patients the cervical spine received up to 100 Gy due to reirradiation. Clinically the patients presented with neck pain. All patients had defects in the pharyngeal posterior wall and cervical instability due to osteoradionecrosis of several cervical vertebrae. Despite optimal conservative treatment the patients developed sensory and motor function loss of the upper extremities. Laminectomies were performed and the cervical spine was stabilized. The pharyngeal posterior wall defects could not be reconstructed. All patients received lifelong antibiotic treatment. Pain and neurological deficits declined after surgery and initiating antibiotics. Eventually all patients could take up their daily activities. Three patients died between 6 months and 2 years after surgery. The cause of death was not related to the osteoradionecrosis. In case of cervical osteoradionecrosis, with secondary infections, stability of the spine should be restored even when the integrity of the pharyngeal posterior wall cannot be restored. Our cases demonstrate that even when an anterior approach is impossible, due to irradiation changed tissue structures of the pharyngeal posterior wall, a combination of lifelong antibiotic treatment and posterior stabilization is a good alternative. The vertebrae affected by osteoradionecrosis and secondary infection can be left in situ. This intervention leads to improvement in quality of life.


Re-irradiation Cervical osteoradionecrosis Spondylodiscitis Stabilization Head- and neck carcinoma 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Approval of the Institutional Review Board at the hospital was obtained for this retrospective study.


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Copyright information

© Association of Otolaryngologists of India 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of OtorhinolaryngologyUniversity of Groningen, University Medical Center GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Radiation OncologyUniversity of Groningen, University Medical Center GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of NeurosurgeryUniversity of Groningen, University Medical Center GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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