Clinical outcomes and toxicity following palliative radiotherapy for childhood cancers

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Few reports of palliative radiotherapy (RT) for pedialltric malignancies have been published. We described clinical indications, outcomes, and toxicities for children who received palliative RT.


Pediatric patients (age ≤18 years) treated with palliative RT for incurable cancer from January 1 2008 to February 26, 2014 were included. Diagnosis, details of RT, treatment response, toxicity, and survival were retrospectively reviewed.


Forty-six patients received 76 RT courses. Fifteen patients (33%) had ≥2 courses. Median age at palliative RT was 10.3 years; 54% were male. The most common diagnoses were neuroblastoma (20%) and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (17%). The most common indications for RT were oligometastatic disease in asymptomatic patients (39%) and pain (25%). The most common treatment sites were brain (32%) and bone (29%). Median RT dose was 30 Gy. Median number of RT fractions was 12. Sixty-five treatment courses (86%) were delivered with fraction sizes ≥2.5 Gy. Twenty-seven treatment courses (36%) were given under general anesthesia. Median follow-up was 3.9 months. Grade 1–2 RT-related toxicity occurred in 21% of treatment courses and 4–8% up to 12 months after RT. Two patients had Grade 3 toxicity during RT (esophagitis). Of symptomatic patients, 91%, 73%, 58%, and 43% had improved or stable symptoms during RT and 0–3, 3–6, and 6–12 months afterwards, respectively. Median survival after palliative RT was 4.2 months. Four of 21 surviving patients (19%) had hospice care at last follow-up.


Palliative RT was well tolerated in children with incurable malignancies, with most cases associated with acceptable toxicity, and improved or stable symptoms.

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