Brain astrocytomas: biopsy, then irradiation

Clin Neurosurg. 1995;42:464-79.


We believe that every patient who has clinical symptoms and neurodiagnostic imaging signs suggesting a low-grade glial neoplasm should undergo early diagnosis and treatment. Observation is not warranted for a tumor that has a median survival of 5 years. The value of cytoreductive surgery for many patients has yet to be proven. It is incumbent on neurosurgeons who advocate this approach to show that this more aggressive treatment strategy is preferable to minimally invasive techniques, such as stereotactic biopsy followed by radiation therapy. Clearly, some patients who have a glial tumor require early cytoreductive surgery: those with mass effect and significant neurologic deficits. Otherwise, they will not be able to tolerate fractionated radiation therapy. Because the long-term survival rate is very poor, observation is not warranted in patients with suspected glial neoplasm. Early stereotactic biopsy immediately identifies those patients who, in fact, have more anaplastic tumors and a much worse prognosis. Such patients may benefit from early, aggressive treatments such as cytoreductive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Applying this philosophy, we have achieved a median survival of more than 10 years in patients with astrocytoma. Most patients maintain a high KPS rating, and most do not require delayed cytoreductive surgery. Although we believe that the outcomes of future patients with astrocytomas will improve, we must establish whether such improvement is related to better therapeutic options, earlier recognition enabled by advanced neuroimaging, or the availability of corticosteroids (28, 30). We also believe that neurosurgeons and neuro-oncologists should stop arguing over whether cytoreductive surgery is warranted. For some patients it is, and for others it is not. This prolonged controversy indicates the basic impotence with which neurosurgeons approach glial tumors. Our energy and efforts should be devoted toward more concrete and positive goals in terms of glial tumor management. These goals include prolonged and higher-quality survival, reduced surgical and postoperative morbidity, and the development of new surgical, chemotherapeutic, and molecular tools that will allow us to improve clinical outcomes. Needless and senseless arguing over cytoreductive surgery versus biopsy, radiation versus no radiation, or any of these procedures versus observation alone trivialize the issues that face us and our patients: astrocytomas of the brain are neither indolent nor benign. The vast majority of our patients with astrocytomas are dead within 5 years, and almost all within 10. Our papers, our meetings, our approach should encourage us to pursue new basic science and clinical strategies to fight glial neoplasms. Surgery alone cures no patient with a glioma. Radiation therapy cures relatively few, and chemotherapy cures none. New ideas and new approaches are needed to improve the plight of our patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytoma / pathology*
  • Astrocytoma / radiotherapy*
  • Biopsy
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging