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The main objective of this prospective multicentre randomized phase III study was to compare a combined regimen of fotemustine plus whole brain irradiation with fotemustine alone in terms of cerebral response and time to cerebral progression in patients with melanoma cerebral metastases. Seventy-six patients were randomized to receive either fotemustine (arm A, n = 39) or fotemustine plus whole brain irradiation (arm B, n = 37). Fotemustine was administered intravenously at 100 mg/m2 on days 1, 8 and 15, followed by a 5 week rest period, then every 3 weeks in non-progressive patients. In arm B, concomitant whole brain irradiation was performed at a total dose of 37.5 Gy (2.5 Gy/day on days 1–5 for three consecutive weeks). Although patients who received fotemustine alone had worse prognostic factors, there was no significant difference in cerebral response (arm A, 7.4%, arm B, 10.0%) or control rates (objective responses plus stable disease) after 7 weeks (arm A, 30%; arm B, 47%) or in overall survival (arm A, 86 days; arm B, 105 days). However, there was a significant difference in favour of arm B for the time to cerebral progression (P = 0.028, Wilcoxon test). In conclusion, fotemustine plus whole brain irradiation delayed the time to cerebral progression of melanoma cerebral metastases compared with fotemustine alone but without a significant improvement in terms of objective control or overall survival.