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The spine or "backbone" is a group of bones stacked in a straight line down the middle of the back, held together with muscles and ligaments. Treatment for children's cancer can sometimes result in abnormal curvatures of the spine, known as scoliosis and kyphosis.
Scoliosis occurs in many young people, especially teenagers, and is most often "idiopathic," meaning that the cause is not known. However, people who have received radiation to the chest, abdomen or spine, especially when combined with surgery, are at increased risk for uneven development of the muscles, bones and soft tissues of the back, resulting in scoliosis.
Kyphosis sometimes develops from stretching of the spinal ligaments, causing the natural curve of the spine to increase. Kyphosis can also be caused by uneven development of the back muscles and ligaments as a result of radiation.
Treatment for scoliosis and kyphosis is usually done in stages. The first stage is usually "observation." During this stage, the curve is closely monitored, especially during periods of rapid growth, such as during puberty. If the curve does not get worse, observation may be all that is necessary.
If the curve progresses, the next step is usually bracing (a plastic body brace worn under the clothing). The goal of bracing is to halt progression or help correct the abnormal spinal curvature.