Chordoma care at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic specialists have experience caring for people with chordomas and other types of vertebral tumors. Specialists work as a team to provide you with exactly the care you need.

Diagnosis at Mayo Clinic

Tests and procedures used to diagnose chordomas include:

  • Removing a sample of cells for laboratory testing (biopsy). A biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of suspicious cells for laboratory testing. In the lab, specially trained doctors called pathologists examine the cells under microscopes to determine whether cancer cells are present.

    At Mayo Clinic, the medical team that performs your biopsy consults with experienced surgeons to plan the procedure so that it can be done in a way that won't interfere with a later operation.

  • Creating images of your spine. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests to help visualize your chordoma and determine whether it has spread beyond the spine. Tests may include an MRI or CT.

Treatment at Mayo Clinic

At Mayo Clinic, treatment for chordomas often involves proton beam radiation therapy. After your diagnosis, you'll likely meet first with a radiation oncologist to discuss whether to begin treatment with proton therapy or to pursue proton therapy after surgery.

Treatment options for chordomas may include:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor in one piece, whenever possible. Surgery may be difficult to perform because the tumor is near critical structures in the brain and spinal cord.

    Surgery for a chordoma is often complex. At Mayo Clinic, experienced and highly skilled surgeons perform operations to remove chordomas.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table as a machine moves around you, directing the radiation beams to precise points on your body. Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery or in cases when surgery isn't an option.

    Treatment with newer types of radiation treatment, such as proton therapy, allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation, which may be more effective in treating chordomas. Mayo Clinic offers proton therapy at its campuses in Arizona and Minnesota.

  • Radiosurgery. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses multiple beams of radiation to kill the cancer cells in a very small area. The individual beams of radiation aren't particularly powerful, but the point where all the beams meet — at the chordoma — receives a very large dose of radiation to kill the cancer cells.
  • Other treatments. In certain situations, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy may be used to treat a chordoma.