Chemotherapy delivery for the treatment of malignant brain tumors is markedly enhanced when given in conjunction with osmotic opening of the blood-brain barrier. Osmotic opening or disruption of the blood-brain barrier is achieved while the patient is under general anesthesia, by the infusion of mannitol into the internal carotid or vertebral artery circulation. The mannitol infusion is followed by administration of intraarterial chemotherapy.
A National Blood-Brain Barrier Program now exists and includes six universities. Within the National Program over 4200 blood-brain barrier disruption procedures have been performed in over 400 patients. Patients with primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma, glioma, primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET), germ cell and metastatic cancer are eligible for treatment. Results in patients with primary CNS lymphoma, recently reported in the Cancer Journal,8 include the first example of a durable response in a primary brain tumor without loss of cognitive function and without use of radiotherapy. Results with PNET and germ cell tumors are also very encouraging.
Advanced practice nurses coordinate the care of blood-brain barrier disruption patients. Care includes patient selection, education, close neurological observation, maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance and managing effects of high-dose chemotherapy. Both acute and long-term medical and psychological follow-up are an essential component of the program, as well as patient and family support.