Purpose of review: Melanoma is the third most common metastatic brain tumor in the United States and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The development of more effective therapies for melanoma brain metastases is a major unmet clinical need and is summarized in this review.
Recent findings: Management strategies include symptomatic treatment with corticosteroids and anticonvulsants, and definitive therapy in the form of whole-brain radiation therapy, surgical resection, stereotactic radiosurgery, and systemic therapy. The data on whole-brain radiation therapy show little impact on survival, but there is evidence that it may improve neurologic deficits. Surgery may provide a survival advantage in combination with whole-brain radiation therapy in the management of a single brain melanoma metastasis, compared with whole-brain radiation therapy alone. Stereotactic radiosurgery may offer a survival advantage (in a select group of patients with limited disease) when used alone or in combination with whole-brain radiation therapy, compared with whole-brain radiation therapy alone. Fotemustine, temozolomide, and thalidomide are three agents with high central nervous system penetration that are being actively investigated as part of systemic therapy.
Summary: The currently available therapeutic options offer palliative relief of symptoms in most patients and a survival advantage in selected patients with melanoma and brain metastases. An urgent need exists to further define these treatments in the context of randomized trials, several of which are under way in the United States and abroad.