A systematic overview of radiation therapy effects in skeletal metastases

U Falkmer, J Jarhult, P Wersall, Eva Cavallin-Ståhl

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151 Citations (SciVal)


A systematic review of radiation therapy trials in several tumour types was performed by The Swedish Council of Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU). The procedures for evaluation of the scientific literature are described separately (Acta Oncol 2003; 42: 357-365). This synthesis of the literature on radiation therapy for skeletal metastases is based on data from 16 randomized trials. Moreover, data from 20 prospective studies, 5 retrospective studies and 22 other articles were used. A total of 63 scientific articles are included, involving 8051 patients. The results were compared with those of a similar overview from 1996 including 13054 patients. The conclusions reached can be summarized as follows: Irradiation of skeletal metastases is, with few exceptions, a palliative treatment. There is strong evidence that radiotherapy of skeletal metastases gives an overall (complete and partial pain relief) in more than 80% of patients. There is strong evidence that the duration of pain relief in at least 50% of patients lasts for greater than or equal to6 months. There is convincing evidence that pain relief, in terms of degree and duration, does not depend on the fractionation schedules applied. Irrespective of the fractionation schedule used at irradiation, the number of later complications, such as spinal cord compression or pathological fractures, at the index fields are low. There are some data showing that the difference in cost between single and multifraction treatment is small. However, these data do not permit any firm conclusions to be drawn. Several reports indicate that early diagnosis and early therapy of spinal cord compression are the two most important predictors of a favourable clinical outcome after radiotherapy. However, no controlled studies have been undertaken. When the diagnosis of spinal cord compression is late, a favourable outcome might depend on the radio-responsiveness of the tumour. The documentation is weak and no conclusions can be drawn. There is some evidence that a small proportion of totally paralytic patients can regain walking function after radiotherapy. There is strong evidence that the radionuclides Sr-89 and Sm-153 are efficient when they are used as a systemic treatment of generalized bone pain due to metastasis from carcinomas of the prostate and breast. Overall bone pain relief occurs in about 60-80% of patients with a median response duration of 2-4 months. There is strong evidence that intravenous treatment with bisphosphonates in patients with myeloma and osteolytic bone metastasis due to carcinoma of the breast significantly decreases the number of skeleton-related events and bone pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-633
JournalActa Oncologica
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cancer and Oncology


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