Purpose: To determine if in patients with single brain metastasis the addition of neurosurgery to radiotherapy leads to lengthening of survival or to better quality of life.
Methods and materials: From 1985 to 1990, 66 patients with single brain metastasis from a solid tumor were entered in a randomized trial of neurosurgery plus radiotherapy vs. radiotherapy alone. Patients were stratified for lung cancer vs. other sites of cancer and for progressive vs. stable systemic cancer. Radiotherapy was given to the whole brain by a novel scheme of two fractions of 2 Gy per day for a total dose of 40 Gy in 2 weeks, to obtain a relatively high total dose and short overall time, with minimal risk of late damage to normal tissue in long-term survivors.
Results: In the whole group of 63 evaluable patients, both with lung cancer as with other tumors, the combined treatment led to a better duration of survival (median 10 vs. 6 months; p = 0.04). The largest difference between both treatment arms was observed in patients with inactive extracranial disease (median 12 vs. 7 months; p = 0.02). Patients with active extracranial disease had an equal median survival of only 5 months, irrespective of given treatment. Age proved to be a strong and independent prognostic factor: patients older than 60 years had a hazard ratio of dying of 2.74 (p = 0.003) compared with younger patients. Following treatment, most patients remained functionally independent until a few weeks before death. In the majority of patients the cause of death was systemic tumor progression.
Conclusion: Patients with single brain metastasis and with controlled or absent extracranial tumor activity should be treated with surgery and radiotherapy, especially when they are younger than 60 years. For patients with progressive extracranial disease, radiotherapy alone seems to be sufficient. The accelerated radiotherapy scheme of 40 Gy in 2 weeks to the whole brain is tolerated well and should also be considered for patients in a good performance status with surgically unaccessible single metastasis or even with multiple brain metastases.