Curving of the Spine After Childhood Cancer


The backbone, or spine, is a group of bones that are stacked in a straight line down the middle of your back. Muscles and ligaments hold them together. Treatment for childhood cancer sometimes causes the spine to curve more than it should, causing conditions like scoliosis and kyphosis.

What Is Scoliosis and Kyphosis?

Scoliosis and kyphosis are conditions where the spine curves too much.

Scoliosis 

In this condition your spine rotates to the side. Instead of appearing as a straight line when viewed from the back, the spine looks curved like the letter "S" or "C." Signs of scoliosis include:

  • shoulder blades, hips, or waist that look uneven,
  • "leaning" of the back to one side,
  • head not centered above the pelvis, and
  • one leg that is longer than the other.

Kyphosis 

In this condition the upper part of the back is rounder than usual. From the side, it may look like you are slouching or have a "hump."

Am I at Risk?

The cause of scoliosis is unknown most of the time. But certain treatments for childhood cancer can cause uneven development of the muscles, bones, and soft tissues of the back, causing scoliosis. These treatments include radiation to the trunk or any area from the shoulders to the pelvis. Tumors in or near the spine also increase risk for scoliosis.

Kyphosis can occur when the ligaments of the spine stretch too much. A tumor in or near the spine can raise risk for kyphosis, as can uneven development of the muscles and ligaments of the back due to radiation to the chest or upper stomach area.

Should I Be Checked for Backbone Problems?

Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about the curve of your spine. Scoliosis and kyphosis can be spotted during a physical exam. X-rays of the spine confirm diagnosis. You'll most likely be referred to a bone specialist (orthopedist) if the curve is more than 10 degrees for scoliosis or 50 degrees for kyphosis.

What If I Have Scoliosis or Kyphosis?

Most often, treatment for scoliosis or kyphosis is done in stages.

In the first stage your doctor will closely monitor the curve in your back, especially during periods of rapid growth, like during puberty. If the curve stays the same, no further treatment may be needed.

If the curve worsens, the second stage is wearing a plastic body brace under your clothes. The goal of bracing is to stop the curve from getting worse or to help correct the curve.

If bracing doesn't help a severe curve, the third stage is surgery.

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