Whole Brain Radiation Therapy Results in Diminished Cognitive Function

According to a team of researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, whole brain radiation therapy often results in diminished cognitive function. Lead researcher Paul Brown, M.D., states that the risk for diminished cognitive function is much greater for cancer patients receiving whole brain radiation therapy compared to radiosurgery, in a presentation at the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s 2015 Annual Meeting. The study indicated that whole brain radiation therapy inhibits one's quality of life, decreases cognitive function and does not decrease morbidity rate, contrary to previous medical opinion. 

In the past, some clinical trials have shown whole brain radiation therapy to provide beneficial results for controlling brain tumors. Clinical trials have not been able to prove whole brain radiation therapy to increase the survival rate for intracranial malignancy. The study showed that patients receiving radiosurgery only had the same survival rate as patients receiving focused radiation in addition to whole brain radiation therapy.

Over 150,000 people in the United States are diagnosed annually with brain metastases. Primary tumors are being detected at a much earlier rate in recent years due to advances in imaging. Radiation therapy is often utilized to treat patients with brain metastases. Stereotactic radiosurgery targets the tumor compared to whole brain radiation therapy. Whole brain radiation therapy was previously believed to treat microscopic disease and reduce the probability of successive brain tumors. The side effects of whole brain radiation therapy include fatigue, hair loss, skin irritation and xerostomia (dry mouth).

An alternative therapy for intracranial malignancy is neurosurgical resection. Advances in medical science have significantly lowered the morbidity rate for patients undergoing neurosurgical resection. Image guided stereotactic techniques have augmented survival rates. A combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy has shown to increase the survival rate of patients with malignant glioblastoma multiforme.


*Photo courtesy of Brain Lobes by Allan Alifo at Flickr’s Creative Commons.



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