Prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI) plays a role in the management of lung cancer patients, especially small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients. As multimodality treatments are now able to ensure better local control and a lower rate of extracranial metastases, brain relapse has become a major concern in lung cancer. As survival is poor after development of brain metastases (BM) in spite of specific treatment, PCI has been introduced in the 1970's. PCI has been evaluated in randomized trials in both SCLC and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) to reduce the incidence of BM and possibly increase survival. PCI reduces significantly the BM rate in both limited disease (LD) and extensive disease (ED) SCLC and in non-metastatic NSCLC. Considering SCLC, PCI significantly improves overall survival in LD (from 15 to 20% at 3 years) and ED (from 13 to 27% at 1 year) in patients who respond to first-line treatment; it should thus be part of the standard treatment in all responders in ED and in good responders in LD. No dose-effect relationship for PCI was demonstrated in LD SCLC patients so that the recommended dose is 25 Gy in 10 fractions. In NSCLC, even if the risk of brain dissemination is lower than in SCLC, it has become a challenging issue. Studies have identified subgroups at higher risk of brain failure. There are more local treatment possibilities for BM related to NSCLC, but most BM will eventually recur so that PCI should be reconsidered. Few randomized trials have been performed. Most of them could demonstrate a decreased incidence of BM in patients with PCI, but they were not able to show an effect on survival as they were underpowered. New trials are needed. Among long-term survivors, neuro-cognitive toxicity may be observed. Several approaches are being evaluated to reduce this possible toxicity. PCI has no place for other solid tumours at risk such as HER2+ breast cancer patients.
Keywords: lung cancer; neurotoxicity; non-small cell lung cancer; prophylactic cranial irradiation; radiotherapy; small cell cancer.