Is whole-brain radiotherapy still a standard treatment for primary central nervous system lymphomas?

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Abstract

Purpose of review

In primary central nervous system lymphomas (PCNSL), optimal therapy remains to be established, and the role of whole-brain radiotherapy (WBRT) is a matter of debate. With radiation alone, transient responses and clinical improvement are frequent, but long-term disease control is exceptional. WBRT has been considered possible consolidation therapy after high-dose methotrexate (HDMTX)-based initial chemotherapy. This strategy has been questioned due to a high risk of delayed neurotoxicity after combined treatment. This review analyses the current role of WBRT in PCNSL.

Recent findings

Neither in retrospective analyses nor in randomized trials, an overall survival benefit with WBRT in addition to HDMTX-based initial chemotherapy could be found. On the other hand, a recent randomized trial did not show superiority of consolidation with high-dose chemotherapy followed by autologous stem-cell transplantation to consolidation WBRT after initial HDMTX-based polychemotherapy. This finding, however, is probably due to an intense initial therapy and to a small number of patients having reached consolidation and randomization to WBRT vs. high-dose chemotherapy followed by autologous stem-cell transplantation.

Summary

The current role of WBRT in PCNSL is confined to patients who cannot tolerate chemotherapy or have failed it. WBRT should not routinely be used for consolidation of HDMTX-based chemotherapy due to lack of evidence of efficacy as additional treatment and due to a high risk of neurotoxicity.

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