Background: The central nervous system (CNS) can be a sanctuary site for cancer cells, because the blood-brain barrier impedes penetration of most chemotherapeutic agents. The authors hypothesized that, with improved survival from childhood metastatic neuroblastoma (NB), the incidence of CNS (intraparenchymal and leptomeningeal) spread may increase. They undertook this study to assess the frequency of CNS NB, to analyze risk factors and treatment options, and to review the literature.
Methods: The authors retrospectively analyzed all patients with metastatic NB who were treated on protocols N4, N5, N6, and N7 from 1980 to 1999 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), during which time there was an increase in the overall survival rate.
Results: Two hundred fifty-one patients with Stage 4 NB (Group 251) were studied, of which 127 (Group 127) were newly diagnosed patients who were treated initially at MSKCC. None had CNS NB at the time of diagnosis. Eleven patients developed documented CNS disease; 8 of these 11 recurrences were isolated in the CNS. For Group 127, the overall incidence rate of CNS NB was 6.3%, with an increase in incidence from N4-N5 to N6-N7 of from 1.7% to 11.7%. Seven patients had isolated CNS disease recurrences. Only lumbar punctures (LP) performed near the time of diagnosis in patients with known bone marrow involvement were associated with subsequent development of CNS disease. For the entire group of 251 patients, lumbar puncture at the time of diagnosis and elevated serum lactic dehydrogenase levels were prognostic. Among the larger series reported in the literature, CNS involvement from metastatic lesions was rare at the time of diagnosis and remained an uncommon complication.
Conclusions: The incidence of CNS NB may be increasing. Because it is the sole site of disease recurrence in 64% of patients, the CNS may represent a sanctuary site for NB. CNS NB is associated with diagnostic lumbar punctures in patients with known bone marrow disease, raising the possibility that circulating or epidural microscopic tumor cells may seed the craniospinal axis.
Copyright 2001 American Cancer Society.