Radiation-induced dementia in patients cured of brain metastases

Neurology. 1989 Jun;39(6):789-96. doi: 10.1212/wnl.39.6.789.


When a patient with cancer develops a brain metastasis, death is usually imminent, but aggressive treatment in some patients with limited or no systemic disease yields long-term survival. In such patients, delayed deleterious effects of therapy are particularly tragic. We report 12 patients who developed delayed complications of whole brain radiotherapy (WBRT) given as sole treatment (4 patients) or in combination with surgical resection (8 patients). Within 5 to 36 months (median, 14) all patients developed progressive dementia, ataxia, and urinary incontinence causing severe disability in all and leading to death in 7. No patient had tumor recurrence when neurologic symptoms began. Cortical atrophy and hypodense white matter were identified by CT in all. Contrast-enhancing lesions were seen in 3 patients; 2 of the lesions yielded radionecrosis on biopsy. Autopsies on 2 patients revealed diffuse chronic edema of the hemispheric white matter in the absence of tumor recurrence. Corticosteroids and ventriculoperitoneal shunt offered significant but incomplete improvement in some patients. The total dose of WBRT was only 2,500 to 3,900 cGy, but daily fractions of 300 to 600 cGy were employed. We believe that these fractionation schedules, several of which are used commonly, predispose to delayed neurologic toxicity, and that more protracted schedules should be employed for the safe and efficacious treatment of good-risk patients with brain metastases. The incidence of WBRT-induced dementia was only 1.9 to 5.1% in the 2 populations reviewed here; however, this underestimates the incidence because only severely affected patients could be identified from chart review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ataxia / etiology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / radiation effects
  • Brain Neoplasms / complications
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Shunts
  • Dementia / etiology*
  • Female
  • Gait / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus / complications
  • Hydrocephalus / surgery
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Injuries*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed