Object: The authors conducted a retrospective review to examine and document the frequency, degree, and timing of the radiologically confirmed response to radiotherapy of low-grade gliomas in children.
Methods: Between 1963 and 1995, 80 patients 17 years of age or younger were referred to the London Regional Cancer Centre in London, Ontario after diagnosis of a low-grade glioma. All patients underwent surgical resection or biopsy procedures and 47 underwent radiotherapy (40 postoperatively and seven at the time of tumor progression). Nineteen patients with residual measurable lesions who received radiation therapy were selected for volumetric analysis of tumor response to this treatment. The extent and timing of response to radiation were determined by the process of comparing postoperative, preirradiation computerized tomography (CT) scans with postirradiation, follow-up CT scans. For one patient the comparison was made by using serial magnetic resonance images. Residual tumor was found on postoperative CT scans in all cases. The mean preradiotherapy tumor volume was 17.1 cm3, and the postradiotherapy volume was reduced to a mean of 11.5 cm3. A reduction in tumor volume was demonstrated in eight patients by the time of their first postirradiation follow-up CT scan and in two patients a slower reduction in volume over time was shown, bringing the total number of "responders" to 10. In five of these 10 patients the tumor had shown a maximum response by the time of the first postirradiation CT scan; the median time to response was 3.3 months. A 25% or greater reduction in tumor volume was seen in eight (42%) of the 19 patients. A 50% or greater reduction was noted in five (26%) of the patients. A complete response was demonstrated at 7, 12, and 15 months, and 5 years, respectively, in four patients (21%). One responder's tumor eventually increased in size after radiotherapy and he died of his disease. The magnitude of the radiographically demonstrated response to radiation did not correlate significantly with clinical outcome (that is, survival or symptom improvement).
Conclusions: On the basis of this CT scan analysis of the response of low-grade gliomas in children to radiotherapy, the authors suggest that these lesions respond to radiation, as demonstrated by tumor shrinkage on serial imaging. Major or complete responses occur occasionally. However, low-grade gliomas in children mimic other benign brain tumors such as pituitary adenomas and meningiomas in that, although growth is frequently arrested after radiotherapy, residual tumor can persist for many years, illustrating that tumor shrinkage may not be a good measure of treatment efficacy. Nevertheless, radiation therapy can result in improvement of clinical symptomatology in association with or independent of visible tumor reduction. As radiation treatment techniques become increasingly conformal and because studies indicate that lower doses of radiation may be equally effective, improvement of symptoms may be an important consideration when weighing treatment options, particularly in patients with residual or unresectable disease.