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Vertebroplasty is not a do-not-do treatment

William A Clark
Med J Aust 2016; 204 (2): 71. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.01201
Published online: 1 February 2016

Vertebroplasty has been controversial but remains clinically useful and new evidence awaits publication

Duckett and colleagues have classified vertebroplasty as a do-not-do treatment.1 They referenced two randomised controlled trials (RCTs)2,3 as definitive proof of this. However, the authors failed to heed our clinical opinion published in the MJA that these two trials were “not relevant to the patient group that we treat with vertebroplasty”.4 We have the largest clinical vertebroplasty experience in Australia, yet our published advice was apparently ignored. In the article by Duckett and colleagues, Box 1 illustrated the selection process that the authors used to determine do-not-do procedures. The process supposedly excluded evidence which was “contested” or “which was not supported by consulted clinical experts”. Accordingly, vertebroplasty should have been deleted from the list.

The authors used the United Kingdom National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for clinical guidance. Current NICE guidance5 states that “vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty can be considered appropriate interventions for people with recent, unhealed osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures in whom the pain is severe and ongoing despite optimal pain management”.

From 1208 potential treatments, the authors excluded 1200, leaving five apparently incontrovertible do-not-do treatments. The fact that at least one of the five is wrongly included (by the authors’ own criteria) demonstrates the failure of the proposed model and the danger of adopting this kind of formula to influence clinical practice in hospitals.

The evidence for and against vertebroplasty is inconclusive. There is disparity in measured outcomes between blinded RCTs2,3 of vertebroplasty for fractures up to 12 months old and a larger, open-label RCT6 of fractures less than 6 weeks in duration. The blinded trials found no significant benefit of vertebroplasty over placebo, whereas the open-label RCT found significant benefit of vertebroplasty over conservative care. This disparity is well described in the NICE guidance.5

For the past 10 years, my vertebroplasty practice has been confined to treating fractures less than 6 weeks old.7 It is clear to me that the published blinded trials tested a different approach and are not relevant to the patient group that my practice treats with vertebroplasty for two principal reasons: the fractures were mostly non-acute; and the volume of cement used in these trials (2.6 cm3 on average in both trials) would have been insufficient to stabilise an acutely collapsing vertebral fracture.

Attempting to answer the acute fracture conundrum, the authors of the blinded RCTs published a meta-analysis of 52 patients from both trials with fractures less than 6 weeks duration.8 Only outcomes at 2 weeks and 1 month were presented and the evidence is hardly definitive.

The onus was placed on vertebroplasty practitioners to provide high-quality blinded data in this group of patients. For this purpose, my co-investigators and I embarked on the Vertebroplasty for Acute Painful Osteoporotic fractURes (VAPOUR) trial.9 Five years ago, we reconfigured the protocol from the INvestigational Vertebroplasty Efficacy and Safety Trial (INVEST),2,10 the larger of the two blinded vertebroplasty trials. We excluded crossover, which was permitted at 1 month in INVEST. We changed the selection criteria to include only fractures less than 6 weeks duration (average fracture age in the VAPOUR trial was 2.6 weeks compared with 18 weeks in INVEST) with pain scores greater than 7/10 and with either magnetic resonance imaging or single-photon emission computed tomography evidence of acute fracture. In-patients, already hospitalised with acute fractures, comprised 59% of the VAPOUR trial enrolment but were excluded in INVEST. The procedural technique was different in the VAPOUR trial, where we attempted maximum fill of the vertebral body to stabilise the fracture and prevent ongoing collapse. The average cement volume of 7.5 cm3 in the VAPOUR trial was three times that in INVEST. The method of blinding and data collection was similar for the two trials.

Our trial team included four Sydney centres with established vertebroplasty programs. The VAPOUR trial completed enrolment of 120 patients in December 2014 and is the largest RCT and the only acute fracture RCT of vertebroplasty in Australia. Statistical assessments of outcomes are nearing completion and the results of the trial will soon be published.


Provenance: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • William A Clark

  • St George Private Hospital, Sydney, NSW


Acknowledgements: 

Optimus Clinical Research, an independent research company, collected the data and conducted the trial. The biostatistics section of the National Health and Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Centre (University of Sydney) provided trial guidance and statistical analysis. We obtained an independent research grant from CareFusion, the company that manufactures the vertebroplasty kit used for the trial. CareFusion had no input on trial protocol or conduct.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Duckett S, Breadon P, Romanes D. Identifying and acting on potentially inappropriate care. Med J Aust 2015; 203: 183e.1-183e.6. <MJA full text>
  • 2. Kallmes DF, Comstock BA, Heagerty PJ, et al. A randomized trial of vertebroplasty for osteoporotic spinal fractures. N Engl J Med 2009; 361: 569-579.
  • 3. Buchbinder R, Osboren RH, Ebeling PR, et al. A randomized trial of vertebroplasty for painful osteoporotic vertebral fractures. N Engl J Med 2009; 361: 557-568.
  • 4. Clark W, Diamond TH, McNeil HP, et al. Vertebroplasty for painful acute osteoporotic vertebral fractures: recent Medical Journal of Australia editorial is not relevant to the patient group that we treat with vertebroplasty. Med J Aust 2010; 192: 334-337. <MJA full text>
  • 5. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Percutaneous vertebroplasty and percutaneous balloon kyphoplasty for treating osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures. (NICE technology appraisal guidance [TA279]). London: NICE, 2013. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta279 (accessed Dec 2015).
  • 6. Klazen CA, Lohle PN, de Vries J, et al. Vertebroplasty versus conservative treatment in acute osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures (Vertos II): an open-label randomised trial. Lancet 2010; 376: 1085-1092.
  • 7. Diamond TH, Bryant C, Browne L, Clark WA. Clinical outcomes after acute osteoporotic vertebral fractures: a 2-year non-randomised trial comparing percutaneous vertebroplasty with conservative therapy. Med J Aust 2006; 184: 113-117. <MJA full text>
  • 8. Staples MP, Kallmes DF, Comstock BA, et al. Effectiveness of vertebroplasty using individual patient data from two randomised placebo controlled trials: meta-analysis BMJ 2011; 343: d3952.
  • 9. Clark W, Bird P, Diamond T, Gonski P. Vertebroplasty for acute painful osteoporotic fractures (VAPOUR): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials 2015; 16: 159.
  • 10. Gray LA, Jarvik JG, Heagerty PJ, et al. INvestigational Vertebroplasty Efficacy and Safety Trial (INVEST): a randomized controlled trial of percutaneous vertebroplasty. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2007; 8: 126.

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access_time 12:19, 16 February 2016
Stephen Duckett

Clark concludes that 'the evidence for and against vertebroplasty is inconclusive'.

This is the very issue canvassed in our original paper. If evidence is inconclusive, should the procedure be subject to greater system-wide monitoring (which was our proposal)? Or should such a procedure with an inconclusive evidence base attract general public funding at all (or only research funding)? What should patients be told about the procedure prior to their operation?

We took a conservative view on this, arguing that there should be greater monitoring of procedures where evidence was weak or non-existent rather than immediate cessation of public funding.

Hopefully the results of the industry-funded trial referred to in Clark's paper will contribute in a sound way to the evidence base on vertebroplasty so we can have a better basis for policy and practice.

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Dr Stephen Duckett
Grattan Institute

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