Study: Risk of Whole-Brain Radiation Outweighs Benefit

In a major study, researchers found that whole brain radiation therapy – a traditional approach that treats the entire brain rather than targeted areas – did not improve survival for patients with brain metastases (cancer that starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain). The side effects of this aggressive treatment had a negative effect on memory, speech and thinking skills. The research suggests that highly focused radiosurgery, such as Gamma Knife surgery, may be best for the brain and the patient’s quality of life.

In the study (which was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2015 annual meeting), patients with one to three brain metastases were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups:

  • Radiosurgery followed by whole brain radiation therapy
  • Radiosurgery alone

After three months, the patients who received radiosurgery plus whole brain radiation therapy performed significantly worse on cognitive tests. Overall survival was about the same for patients in both groups.

The results may alter the treatment path for thousands of cancer patients. Each year, more than 200,000 cancer patients in the United States are diagnosed with brain metastases. Given the impact whole brain radiation has on cognitive function, there may be a shift away from whole brain radiation therapy and its detrimental effects, according to the study’s author.

Radiosurgery, however, makes it possible to preserve cognitive function while controlling brain metastases, which is the goal of The Valley Hospital’s Gamma Knife Center. By providing a powerful, precise dose of concentrated radiation to single or multiple tumors, Gamma Knife treatment prevents harm to surrounding tissues and can help avoid the side effects associated with whole brain radiation. And because there are no incisions or surgical trauma to the brain, it can be used in hard-to-treat cases when tumors lie deep within the brain.

If you have been diagnosed with brain metastases, contact the Gamma Knife Center for a consultation and find out if Gamma Knife radiosurgery is the right treatment for you.

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