Stereotactic radiation surgery (SRS) is increasingly applied in patients with brain metastases (BM) and is expected to have fewer adverse effects on cognitive functioning than whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT). Patients with BM are often confronted with a relatively short life expectancy, and the prevention or delay of cognitive decline to maintain quality of life is a clinically and highly relevant treatment goal. This review systematically and specifically evaluates the current literature on the cognitive effects of SRS in patients with BM.
Methods and materials:
Published trials on SRS alone or in combination with WBRT, including objective assessment of cognitive functioning, were identified through a systematic search of the PubMed database up to March 2018.
Of the 241 records screened, 14 studies matched the selection criteria: 2 pilot studies, 7 single-group/observational trials (1 study update), and 5 randomized trials (1 secondary analysis).
In general, the results show little to no objective cognitive decline up to 4 months after SRS compared with WBRT. However, most trials suffered from methodologic limitations that hindered reliable conclusions. Most importantly, few studies investigated the specific cognitive effects of SRS alone or versus WBRT. Furthermore, disentangling the cognitive effects of SRS from the effects of the disease itself and from the effects of other treatments remains very difficult. By presenting this comprehensive review, we aim to encourage researchers to probe deeper into this area and to do so in a standardized and methodologically optimal manner. The ultimate objective of this line of research is to inform both doctors and patients more precisely about the cognitive effects they can expect from treatment. This study is expected to improve the quality of decision-making and maximize clinical outcomes for each individual patient.