Treatment options for brain metastases in patients with non-small cell lung cancer

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Opinion statement

Brain metastases are a common complication for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. In the past, treatment of brain metastases and lung cancer focused on symptom palliation with whole brain radiotherapy (WBRT) and steroids because of the grim outlook for patients. However, recent advances in technology and surgical techniques have created more options for the management of brain metastases, which include surgery, irradiation, stereotactic radiosurgery, and chemotherapy. These aggressive approaches have resulted in an improvement of neurologic outcomes and survival rates of patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Central nervous system (CNS) metastases can be divided into three groups: solitary CNS metastases with controlled or controllable primary disease, oligometastatic disease (fewer than three metastases), and multiple metastases. For patients with solitary CNS metastases, long-term survival is possible. A radical treatment approach involving surgical resection or radiosurgery, followed by WBRT, is recommended. For patients with oligometastatic disease, surgical resection or radiosurgery is considered in selected cases and WBRT is indicated. For patients with multiple metastases, WBRT is recommended. For patients with oligometastatic disease and patients with multiple metastases, recent evidence indicates that systemically effective chemotherapy may produce responses and can be instituted safely before radiotherapy. The treatment timing of chemotherapy and radiotherapy should be individualized.