SPINE SCOLIOSIS AND KYPHOSIS

This page is part of the PanCare PLAIN summaries about late effects and recommendations for long-term follow-up care for survivors of childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer. Click here, for more information on the PLAIN summaries.

Spine scoliosis and kyphosis

The spine runs from the top of the neck to the tailbone. The spine contains 24 vertebrae (backbones) each separated by a disc of soft tissue (cartilage) which prevents the vertebrae from rubbing against each other.

Like the other bones in our body, the spine provides our body with support and allows us to stay upright and move. In addition, the spine protects the spinal cord which is a bundle of nerves that connects the brain with the rest of the body.

Sometimes problems can occur with the spinal column. For example, during a growth spurt in childhood and adolescence, the spine may not develop into a normal shape but into a sideway curve. This is called scoliosis. Another problem which can occur with the spine is kyphosis, which is when the upper part of the spine curves forward more than usual. Kyphosis can develop at any age.

Spine scoliosis and kyphosis can be mild and barely noticeable, but in severe cases it can cause problems.

Am I at higher risk of spine scoliosis and kyphosis?

Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop spine scoliosis or kyphosis. However, there are some medical conditions and treatments that may increase the risk of having spine scoliosis or kyphosis later in life.

The following medical conditions can increase the risk of scoliosis or kyphosis:

  • A tumour near or within the spine

The following treatments can increase the risk of spine scoliosis or kyphosis:

  • Surgery of the spine
  • Surgery of the chest
  • Any dose of radiotherapy to the spine or an area that includes the spine

You can find out if you had any of these medical conditions or treatments by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.

If you experience spine scoliosis or kyphosis, it does not always mean that this is caused by cancer or its treatment. Spine scoliosis and kyphosis may have other causes.

What are symptoms and signs of spine scoliosis and kyphosis?

There are symptoms and signs that can tell you if you or your child might have spine scoliosis or kyphosis. You might not have these symptoms and signs at the moment, but it is important to be aware of them in case they may develop in the future.

These symptoms and signs may suggest that you or your child have scoliosis:

  • Uneven shoulders, hips or waist
  • Leaning to one side
  • Back pain (more common in adults)

Symptoms and signs of kyphosis are:

  • Abnormally curved or hunched upper back
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Breathing problems (in severe cases)

If you recognise any of these symptoms or signs in yourself or your child, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

I am at higher risk of spine scoliosis and kyphosis. What tests should I have and when?

If you or your child are at higher risk of spine scoliosis and kyphosis, it is advised to:

  • Have a physical exam of the spine done every year until you or your child are fully grown. The physician may advise to have the physical exam done more often during puberty and growth spurt.

If you or your child might have spine scoliosis or kyphosis, it may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis by taking an X-ray of the spine.

What happens if I have spine scoliosis and kyphosis?

If you have spine scoliosis or kyphosis, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist will probably refer you to a specialist. Depending on the symptoms and/or signs you experience, you may be referred to an:

  • Orthopaedic surgeon (surgeon specialised in bones and joints)
  • Physiotherapist (healthcare professional specialised in exercise)

The specialist may discuss different treatment options with you.

What else can I do?

Knowing that you may be at increased risk of spine scoliosis or kyphosis can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.

Although it may not lower your risk of spine scoliosis or kyphosis, it is still important to live a healthy lifestyle. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.

It is also important for your wellbeing and health to keep physically active. Being at risk of developing or having scoliosis or kyphosis should not prevent you from taking part in physical activity. Please find out together with your doctor or physiotherapist what activities you or your child can do

It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing spine scoliosis or kyphosis and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or if the information in this brochure concerns you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

Where can I find more information?

You may find more information about spine scoliosis and kyphosis online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.

Some sources of further information are:

  • NHS: Here you can find more information about scoliosis and its treatment
  • NHS: Here you can find more information about kyphosis in general
  • Mayo Clinic: Here you can find more information about scoliosis in general
  • Mayo Clinic: Here you can find more information about kyphosis in general

On this website, you can also find more information related to this topic:

Please note

This PLAIN summary is based on the PanCareFollowUp guideline about “Spine scoliosis and kyphosis” [1], which is based on the consensus of different national guidelines.

While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.

Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.

No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.

The PanCare materials are free to use for anyone aiming to inform about late effects and long-term survivorship care. However, no financial advantage may be achieved. All communication should reference PanCare and link to the PanCare website.

[1] van Kalsbeek, R. et al. (2021) European PANCAREFOLLOWUP recommendations for surveillance of late effects of childhood, adolescent, and Young Adult Cancer, European journal of cancer. Available at: https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(21)00368-3/fulltext