, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 325-338
Date: 14 Sep 2012

Brain Metastases

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Abstract

In recent years, a broader base of treatment options has evolved to improve the outcome for patients with brain metastases. The selection of the most appropriate intervention for the individual patient is dependent on a careful evaluation of the extent of intracranial tumour, as well as an understanding of patient and tumour characteristics that are important determinants of prognosis. Recent analyses have confirmed good performance status, control of the primary tumour, absence of extracranial metastases and age less than 65 years to be predictors for longer survival.

Medical therapy typically includes the use of corticosteroids, and some advances have been made in optimising the use of these agents. Prophylactic use of antiepileptic drugs in patients with brain metastases is generally discouraged.

Chemotherapy was previously not considered to have a role in treating brain metastases, but has increasingly become an accepted treatment option. Recent clinical studies have evaluated the integration of chemotherapy with conventional treatments such as radiotherapy and the addition of biological response modifiers.

In the past, radiotherapy has been the mainstay of treatment for brain metastases. A number of randomised controlled trials have explored external beam radiation therapy, radiation sensitisers, postoperative whole brain irradiation and prophylactic cranial irradiation. Significant improvements in survival have been demonstrated as a result of prophylactic cranial irradiation in patients with small-cell lung cancer, and improved local control of brain metastases has been achieved with postoperative whole brain irradiation. A number of studies have helped define a more efficient use of external beam irradiation. Radiosurgery in particular has been identified as an important advance in radiation treatment delivery and may provide an acceptable alternative to surgical resection in many patients.

Conventional surgery has long had a role to play in establishing the diagnosis, guiding the choice of subsequent therapies and reversing life-threatening complications from brain metastases. The risks of surgery have been reduced with recent improvements in anaesthesia and intraoperative tumour localisation. Recent clinical studies have addressed the role of surgical resection in the management of patients with a single brain metastasis. Survival benefits have been demonstrated in patients undergoing surgical resection in addition to external beam radiation therapy.

Despite the improvements achieved in the treatment of patients with brain metastases at first diagnosis, the question of retreatment may arise in due course. The therapeutic options available in this situation include re-operation, radiosurgery and brachytherapy.