Aug 15, 2001 - 8:20 pm
Traditional external beam radiation therapy for cancer is very imprecise in its targeting, resulting in sometimes severe side effects due to the volume of healthy tissue radiated. Metastatic disease has historically not been treated very well with radiation, due to lack of efficacy and side effects. Observation, with radiation delayed until evidence of progression, or focal radiation (SRS) is a better choice in solitary metastasis patients.
Studies performed by Patchell, et al in the early and late 90's measured tumor recurrence and not long-term survival. His studies convincingly showed there was no survival benefit or prolonged independence in patients who received postoperative whole brain radiation therapy. It never mentioned the incidence of dementia, alopecia, nausea, fatigue or any other numerous side effects associated with whole brain radiation.
The most interesting part of his studies were the patients who lived the longest. Patients in the observation group who avoided neurologic deaths had an improvement in survival, justifying the recommendation that whole brain radiation therapy is not indicated following surgical resection or SRS of a solitary brain metastasis.
Editiorials to the studies describe the morbidity associated with whole brain radiation and emphasized the importance of individualized treatment decisions and quality-of-life outcomes. Patients do not remain functionally independent longer, nor do they live longer than those that have surgery or SRS alone.
Even MD Anderson notes in their OncoLog that whole brain radiation may still be the standard for "four" or more brain tumors, however, there are a variety of effective treatment modalities for people who have fewer than four tumors, and in particular for a solitary brain metastasis.
Professional liability in the field of radiation oncology may result from inadequate explanation to the patient of the intent, risks, side effects and expected results of radiation treatment. A patient must always be fully informed whenever risky protocols are followed. It is vital that the radiation oncologist coordinate the radiation treatments with surgeons so as to ensure that any treatments follow accepted protocol.