Pathologic fracture of the long bones is a common complication of bone metastases. Intramedullary nail stabilization can be used prophylactically (for impending fractures) or therapeutically (for completed fractures) to preserve mobility and quality of life. However, local disease progression may occur after such treatment, and there is concern that surgical instrumentation and the intramedullary nail itself may seed tumor cells along the intramedullary tract, ultimately leading to loss of structural integrity of the construct. Identifying factors associated with local disease progression after intramedullary nail stabilization would help surgeons predict which patients may benefit from alternative surgical strategies.
(1) Among patients who underwent intramedullary nail stabilization for impending or completed pathologic fractures of the long bones, what is the risk of local progression, including progression of the existing lesion and development of a new lesion around the nail? (2) Among patients who experience local progression, what proportion undergo reoperation? (3) What patient characteristics and treatment factors are associated with postoperative local progression? (4) What is the difference in survival rates between patients who experienced local progression and those with stable local disease?
Between January 2013 and December 2019, 177 patients at our institution were treated with an intramedullary nail for an impending or completed pathologic fracture. We excluded patients who did not have a pathologic diagnosis of metastasis before fixation, who were younger than 18 years of age, who presented with a primary soft tissue mass that eroded into bone, and who experienced nonunion from radiation osteitis or an avulsion fracture rather than from metastasis. Overall, 122 patients met the criteria for our study. Three fellowship-trained orthopaedic oncology surgeons involved in the care of these patients treated an impending or pathologic fracture with an intramedullary nail when a long bone lesion either fractured or was deemed to be of at least 35% risk of fracture within 3 months, and in patients with an anticipated duration of overall survival of at least 6 weeks (fractured) or 3 months (impending) to yield palliative benefit during their lifetime. The most common primary malignancy was multiple myeloma (25% [31 of 122]), followed by lung carcinoma (16% [20 of 122]), breast carcinoma (15% [18 of 122]), and renal cell carcinoma (12% [15 of 122]). The most commonly involved bone was the femur (68% [83 of 122]), followed by the humerus (27% [33 of 122]) and the tibia (5% [6 of 122]). A competing risk analysis was used to determine the risk of progression in our patients at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months after surgery. A proportion of patients who ultimately underwent reoperation due to progression was calculated. A univariate analysis was performed to determine whether lesion progression was associated with various factors, including the age and sex of the patient, use of adjuvant therapies (radiation therapy at the site of the lesion, systemic therapy, and antiresorptive therapy), histologic tumor type, location of the lesion, and fracture type (impending or complete). Patient survival was assessed with a Kaplan-Meier curve. A p value < 0.05 was considered significant.
The cumulative incidence of local tumor progression (with death as a competing risk) at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months after surgery was 1.9% (95% confidence interval 0.3% to 6.1%), 2.9% (95% CI 0.8% to 7.5%), 3.9% (95% CI 1.3% to 8.9%), and 4.9% (95% CI 1.8% to 10.3%), respectively. Of 122 patients, 6% (7) had disease progression around the intramedullary nail and 0.8% (1) had new lesions at the end of the intramedullary nail. Two percent (3 of 122) of patients ultimately underwent reoperation because of local progression. The only factors associated with progression were a primary tumor of renal cell carcinoma (odds ratio 5.1 [95% CI 0.69 to 29]; p = 0.03) and patient age (difference in mean age 7.7 years [95% CI 1.2 to 14]; p = 0.02). We found no associations between local disease progression and the presence of visceral metastases, other skeletal metastases, radiation therapy, systemic therapy, use of bisphosphonate or receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B ligand inhibitor, type of fracture, or the direction of nail insertion. There was no difference in survivorship curves between those with disease progression and those with stable local disease (= 0.36; p = 0.54).
Our analysis suggests that for this population of patients with metastatic bone disease who have a fracture or impeding fracture and an anticipated survival of at least 6 weeks (completed fracture) or 3 months (impending fracture), the risk of experiencing local progression of tumor growth and reoperations after intramedullary nail stabilization seems to be low. Lesion progression was not associated with the duration of survival, although this conclusion is limited by the small number of patients in the current study and the competing risks of survival and local progression. Based on our data, patients who present with renal cell carcinoma should be cautioned against undergoing intramedullary nailing because of the risk of postoperative lesion progression.
Level of Evidence
Level III, therapeutic study.