The role of systemic chemotherapy in the treatment of brain metastases from small-cell lung cancer

Francesco Grossi, Tindaro Scolaro, Lucia Tixi, Maura Loprevite, Andrea Ardizzoni

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Brain is the most common site of metastatic spread in small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). Approximately 10% of SCLC patients have brain metastases (BM) already at diagnosis and an additional 40% will develop central nervous system (CNS) involvement during their disease course. Although whole brain radiotherapy and corticosteroids is considered the treatment of choice, accumulating evidence suggests that systemic chemotherapy may also play an important role. The concept of the brain as a pharmacologic sanctuary site for established metastases is in contrast with recent clinical observations of frequent BM responses with systemic chemotherapy. During the last decade, several reports about the effect of systemic chemotherapy on BM from SCLC have been published. Pooled data from five studies report 66% response rate (RR) in 64 patients with initial BM. In addition, an average RR of 36% is derived from five studies including 135 patients with delayed BM treated with systemic single agent chemotherapy. Among new drugs with activity in patients with SCLC brain metastases, camptothecin analog topotecan is one of the most promising with a 52% RR. Although whole brain radiation remains the standard treatment of established BM in SCLC there is an emerging role for systemic chemotherapy, particularly with the use of new active drugs as part of combined modality treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-67
Number of pages7
JournalCritical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Brain metastases
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Systemic chemotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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