Combination Radiation Treatments Boost Survival Rates

May 21, 2004

People with cancer that has spread to the brain – about 40 percent of all cancer cases – live longer and enjoy a better quality of life if they are treated with a combination of radiation techniques, according to research conducted, in part, at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The study, which appears in the May 22nd issue of The Lancet, shows a 33 percent increase in survival for patients with a single brain metastasis who receive whole-brain radiation therapy followed by stereotactic radiosurgery.  These findings have helped increase treatment options for people with metastatic disease.

“This is the first data to demonstrate the benefits of using radiosurgery for the treatment of brain metastases and we’re pleased to show that the therapeutic benefits for patients,” says Michael C. Schell, Ph.D., a study author and medical physicist with the Robert J. Flavin Shaped Beam Surgery Center at the Wilmot Cancer Center.  The Wilmot Cancer Center had six patients enrolled in this 55-center study, coordinated by Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, the nation’s largest cooperative radiation research group.

Stereotactic radiosurgery uses a series of conformal beams of high-dose radiation aligned together and directed at the tumor. This less-invasive technique offers oncologists more precision to destroy tumor cells and reduces damage to healthy tissue, which is essential when treating critical organs, such as the brain, lungs and spine. 

“The prognosis for people with brain metastases is poor and any increase in survival rates is significant,” says Paul Okunieff, M.D., radiation chair at the Wilmot Cancer Center.  The median survival for these patients is one or two months if they’re treated with steroids, or up to six months for patients who receive standard radiation therapy.

The National Cancer Institute-funded, Phase III clinical trail focused on 333 patients who had up to three brain metastases who received 15 whole-brain radiation therapy treatments with or without stereotactic radiosurgery between 1996 and 2001.

Data shows an increased survival rate, from 4.9 months to 6.5 months, for patients with a single tumor treated with the radiation and radiosurgery.  Patients who had multiple brain metastases treated with both techniques did not show significant improvement in their survival rates, but they were more likely to experience a better quality of life.

The Wilmot Cancer Center is charting even greater survival rates for patients with metastatic disease with the use of shaped-beam stereotactic radiosurgery, which delivers high-dose radiation with pinpoint precision.  Wilmot radiation oncologists are studying the use of this technology, designed specifically for treating brain tumors, to destroy tumors in other areas of the body and preliminary results are positive.

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Leslie White
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