“The findings of our study highlight the importance of adopting a personalized, case-based approach when treating each patient” instead of always treating the brain or lung first, lead author Arvind Kumar, a medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, said in an interview.
The study was released at European Lung Cancer Congress 2023.
According to the author, current guidelines recommend treating the brain first in patients with non–small cell lung cancer and a tumor that has spread to the brain.
“Determining whether the brain or body gets treated first depends on where the symptoms are coming from, how severe the symptoms are, how bulky the disease is, and how long the treatment to each is expected to take,” radiation oncologist Henry S. Park, MD, MPH, chief of the thoracic radiotherapy program at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., said in an interview. “Often the brain is treated first since surgery is used for both diagnosis of metastatic disease as well as removal of the brain metastasis, especially if it is causing symptoms. The radiosurgery that follows tends to occur within a day or a few days.”
However, he said, “if the brain disease is small and not causing symptoms, and the lung disease is more problematic, then we will often treat the body first and fit in the brain treatment later.”
For the new study, researchers identified 1,044 patients in the National Cancer Database with non–small cell lung cancer and brain metastases who received systemic therapy plus surgery, brain stereotactic radiosurgery, or lung radiation. All were treated from 2010 to 2019; 79.0% received brain treatment first, and the other 21.0% received lung treatment first.
There was no statistically significant difference in overall survival between those whose brains were treated first and those whose lungs were treated first (hazard ratio, 1.24, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.91-1.70, P = .17). A propensity score–matched analysis turned up no difference in 5-year survival (38.2% of those whose brains were treated first, 95% CI, 27.5-34.4, vs. 38.0% of those whose lungs were treated first, 95% CI, 29.9-44.7, P = .32.)
“These results were consistent regardless of which combination of treatment modalities the patient received – neurosurgery versus brain stereotactic radiosurgery, thoracic surgery versus thoracic radiation,” the author said.
He cautioned that “our study only included patients who were considered candidates for either surgery or radiation to both the brain and lung. The results of our study should therefore be cautiously interpreted for patients who may have contraindications to such treatment.”
Dr. Park, who didn’t take part in the study, said “the results are consistent with what I would generally expect.”
He added: “The take-home message for clinicians should be that there is no one correct answer in how to manage non–small cell lung cancer with synchronous limited metastatic disease in only the brain. If the brain disease is bulky and/or causes symptoms while the body disease isn’t – or if a biopsy or surgery is required to prove that the patient in fact has metastatic disease – then the brain disease should be treated first. On the other hand, if the body disease is bulky and/or causing symptoms while the brain disease isn’t – and there is no need for surgery but rather only a biopsy of the brain – then the body disease can be treated first.”
No funding was reported. The study authors and Dr. Park reported no financial conflicts or other disclosures.