Does Spinal Fusion cause Cancer?

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Two X-rays showing the results of spinal fusion surgeries

Praisaeng/Shutterstock

More low back fusion side effects?  I’m blogging from Rome where the Vatican stem cell conference begins tomorrow. My initial plan was to lay off the blogging this week and take a much needed break, but I just saw the MedPage article on BMP’s and cancer and thought it was too interesting to pass up. As a disclaimer, there’s been no research that the spinal fusion procedure causes cancer (although there’s quite a bit of research that fusion is dramatically less safe than a routine spinal surgery). However, many spinal fusion surgeries are now using Bone Morphogenic Proteins (BMPs) to promote fusion which are associated themselves with more complications. In a recent study, 1 in 4 surgeries by 2006 used these artificial growth factors to grow bone and in women patients the use was nearly 50%. The overall BMP use in fusion surgeries is likely significantly higher now as use of BMPs had exploded from 2002 onward. Besides having a higher rate of complications and side effects, BMP use has now been linked to cancer. How much does your cancer risk go up if your surgeon uses BMPs? 3-5 times! Add this to recent data showing that certain knee replacement prostheses may increase your cancer rate and it all adds up to concerns that placing artificial items in the body may be a bigger risk than once thought. The upshot? Based on the dramatically increased risk of complications over traditional back or spine surgery, spinal fusion should be a surgery of last resort and not a routinely considered procedure for patients with chronic back or neck pain. In addition, if you do need to have back or neck surgery, consider the use of your own concentrated stem cells (many surgeons are spinning down stem cells at the bedside to place them in the fusion mass) rather than using BMPs!

Learn about Regenexx procedures for spine conditions.
Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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