Use of Systemic Therapy Concurrent With Cranial Radiotherapy for Cerebral Metastases of Solid Tumors

Maikel Verduin, Jaap D. Zindler, Hanneke M. A. Martinussen, Rob L. H. Jansen, Sander Croes, Lizza E. L. Hendriks, Danielle B. P. Eekers, Ann Hoeben*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


he incidence of brain metastases of solid tumors is increasing. Local treatment of brain metastases is generally straightforward: cranial radiotherapy (e.g., whole‐brain radiotherapy or stereotactic radiosurgery) or resection when feasible. However, treatment becomes more complex when brain metastases occur while other metastases, outside of the central nervous system, are being controlled with systemic therapy (chemotherapeutics, molecular targeted agents, or monoclonal antibodies). It is known that some anticancer agents can increase the risk for neurotoxicity when used concurrently with radiotherapy. Increased neurotoxicity decreases quality of life, which is undesirable in this predominantly palliative patient group. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to identify the compounds that should be temporarily discontinued when cranial radiotherapy is needed.

This review summarizes the (neuro)toxicity data for combining systemic therapy (chemotherapeutics, molecular targeted agents, or monoclonal antibodies) with concurrent radiotherapy of brain metastases. Because only a limited amount of high‐level data has been published, a risk assessment of each agent was done, taking into account the characteristics of each compound (e.g., lipophilicity) and the microenvironment of brain metastasis. The available trials suggest that only gemcitabine, erlotinib, and vemurafenib induce significant neurotoxicity when used concurrently with cranial radiotherapy. We conclude that for most systemic therapies, the currently available literature does not show an increase in neurotoxicity when these therapies are used concurrently with cranial radiotherapy. However, further studies are needed to confirm safety because there is no high‐level evidence to permit definitive conclusions.

Implications for Practice.
The treatment of symptomatic brain metastases diagnosed while patients are receiving systemic therapy continues to pose a dilemma to clinicians. Will concurrent treatment with cranial radiotherapy and systemic therapy (chemotherapeutics, molecular targeted agents, and monoclonal antibodies), used to control intra‐ and extracranial tumor load, increase the risk for neurotoxicity? This review addresses this clinically relevant question and evaluates the toxicity of combining systemic therapies with cranial radiotherapy, based on currently available literature, in order to determine the need to and interval to interrupt systemic treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-235
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • Brain metastases
  • Radiotherapy
  • Systemic therapy
  • Molecular targeted agents
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Toxicity

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