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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1999 Feb 1;43(3):549-58.

Radiosurgery for brain metastases: is whole brain radiotherapy necessary?

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Department of Radiation Oncology, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0226, USA.



Because whole brain radiotherapy (WBRT) may cause dementia in long-term survivors, selected patients with brain metastases may benefit from initial treatment with radiosurgery (RS) alone reserving WBRT for salvage as needed. We reviewed results of RS +/- WBRT in patients with newly diagnosed brain metastasis to provide background for a prospective trial.


Patients with single or multiple brain metastases managed initially with RS alone vs. RS + WBRT (62 vs. 43 patients) from 1991 through February 1997 were retrospectively reviewed. The use of upfront WBRT depended on physician preference and referral patterns. Survival, freedom from progression (FFP) endpoints, and brain control allowing for successful salvage therapy were measured from the date of diagnosis of brain metastases. Actuarial curves were estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method. Analyses to adjust for known prognostic factors were performed using the Cox proportional hazards model (CPHM) stratified by primary site.


Survival and local FFP were the same for RS alone vs. RS + WBRT (median survival 11.3 vs. 11.1 months and 1-year local FFP by patient 71% vs. 79%, respectively). Brain FFP (scoring new metastases and/or local failure) was significantly worse for RS alone vs. RS + WBRT (28% vs. 69% at 1 year; CPHM adjustedp = 0.03 and hazard ratio = 0.476). However, brain control allowing for successful salvage of a first failure was not significantly different for RS alone vs. RS + WBRT (62% vs. 73% at 1 year; CPHM adjusted p = 0.56).


The omission of WBRT in the initial management of patients treated with RS for up to 4 brain metastases does not appear to compromise survival or intracranial control allowing for salvage therapy as indicated. A randomized trial of RS vs. RS + WBRT is needed to assess survival, quality of life, and cost in good-prognosis patients with newly diagnosed brain metastases.

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