Whole-brain radiation therapy for brain metastases: detrimental or beneficial?
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Abstract Stereotactic radiosurgery is frequently used, either alone or together with whole-brain radiation therapy to treat brain metastases from solid tumors. Certain experts and radiation oncology groups have proposed replacing whole-brain radiation therapy with stereotactic radiosurgery alone for the management of brain metastases. Although randomized trials have favored adding whole-brain radiation therapy to stereotactic radiosurgery for most end points, a recent meta-analysis demonstrated a survival disadvantage for patients treated with whole-brain radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery compared with patients treated with stereotactic radiosurgery alone. However the apparent detrimental effect of adding whole-brain radiation therapy to stereotactic radiosurgery reported in this meta-analysis may be the result of inhomogeneous distribution of the patients with respect to tumor histologies, molecular histologic subtypes, and extracranial tumor stages between the groups rather than a real effect. Unfortunately, soon after this meta-analysis was published, even as an abstract, use of whole-brain radiation therapy in managing brain metastases has become controversial among radiation oncologists. The American Society of Radiation Oncology recently recommended, in their “Choose Wisely” campaign, against routinely adding whole-brain radiation therapy to stereotactic radiosurgery to treat brain metastases. However, this situation creates conflict for radiation oncologists who believe that there are enough high level of evidence for the effectiveness of whole-brain radiation therapy in the treatment of brain metastases.