Does initial staging or tumor histology better identify asymptomatic brain metastases in patients with non-small cell lung cancer?

J Thorac Oncol. 2006 Mar;1(3):205-10. doi: 10.1016/s1556-0864(15)31569-0.


Background: To determine whether the distribution, staging features, or tumor histology of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) distinguishes neurologically symptomatic from asymptomatic patients initially diagnosed with lung cancer, and to determine whether these factors may predict the presence of brain metastasis.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of 809 patients with NSCLC and brain metastases who were treated in our institution between January 1996 and March 2003. Patients who had brain metastasis on initial staging were included. Thoracic computed tomographic scans were reviewed for lung tumor features and staging. Neurological computed tomographic or magnetic resonance image scans were assessed for distribution of brain metastases. Medical records were reviewed for comprehensive staging, tumor histology, and neurological symptoms. Fisher's exact test was used to determine any differences among tumor histology, staging, and imaging features among patients with or without neurological symptoms.

Results: Of the 809 patients, 181 had brain metastasis at initial staging. Among these 181 patients, 120 (66%) presented with neurological symptoms (group 1); 61 (34%) patients were asymptomatic (group 2). Patients with adenocarcinoma and large-cell carcinoma had greater odds of brain metastases than patients with squamous cell carcinoma (p = 0.001). There were 106 (58.6%) patients with adenocarcinoma, 32 (17.7%) with large cell carcinoma, and 18 (9.9%) with squamous cell carcinoma. In both groups, most lung cancers were in the right lung with upper lobe dominance. No significant difference in tumor histology or T stage was found between groups, although group 2 was more likely to have a higher N stage. Of the 181 patients with brain metastasis, 60 (33.1%) had N0 disease, 51 (28.2%) had T1 disease, and 23 (19.2%) had no other metastasis. There was no correlation between number/distribution of brain metastases and tumor histology, although patients with disease in the cerebellum or temporal lobes had a greater likelihood of neurological symptoms (odds ratio 3.7).

Conclusion: There was no significant difference in tumor histology, staging, or distribution between symptomatic or asymptomatic patients with NSCLC with brain metastases. The odds of brain metastases were greater in those with adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma / secondary
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / secondary*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed