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Brain metastases are a common occurrence in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Whole-brain radiotherapy (WBRT) is the standard therapy; more aggressive approaches such as surgery or radiosurgery are indicated in a subset of patients only. The role of systemic treatments remains controversial. Gefitinib is an oral, highly tolerable, specific inhibitor of epidermal growth factor receptor-associated tyrosine kinase, which has shown activity in chemotherapy pre-treated NSCLC. The aim of this study was to evaluate the activity and safety of gefitinib in NSCLC patients with brain metastases.From January 2001 to May 2003, 41 consecutive NSCLC patients with measurable brain metastases were treated with gefitinib, given orally at daily dose of 250 mg. Thirty-seven patients had received previous chemotherapy and 18 patients had been treated previously with WBRT, completed at least 3 months before entering the trial.A partial response (PR) was observed in four patients (10%), with stable disease (SD) in seven cases, for an overall disease control (DC) rate (DC=PR*SD) of 27% (95% confidence interval 13% to 40%). Median duration of PR was 13.5 months. Median progression-free survival (PFS) of the whole population was 3 months. DC rate was higher in patients pre-treated with WBRT (P=0.05) and with adenocarcinoma histological type (P=0.08); adenocarcinoma patients had also a longer PFS (P=0.04). Toxicity was mild and consisted of grade 1/2 skin toxicity and diarrhoea, occurring in 24% and 10% of patients, respectively.Gefitinib can be active on brain disease in NSCLC patients. Since the results of standard therapy for brain metastases in this clinical setting are particularly disappointing, gefitinib appears to be a possible new treatment option.