Radiation Therapy Harms the Brain, Causing Memory and Attention Problems
Radiation therapy for the treatment of brain tumors may lead to cognitive decline later in life, according to a study conducted by researchers from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and published in The Lancet Neurology.
Scientists have known for some time that radiation therapy can damage healthy brain tissue, but prior research found no immediate negative effects from the treatment. In the new study, researchers conducted brain function tests on 65 patients who had undergone treatment for low-grade glioma 12 years previously.
Low-grade glioma is one of the most common forms of brain tumor. It is non-carcinogenic, and can often be removed with surgery. However, many doctors use radiotherapy following surgery.
The researchers found that a full 53 percent of patients who had been treated with radiation exhibited problems with mental function 12 years after their treatment, compared with only 27 percent of those who had not undergone radiation treatment. Radiotherapy patients were especially likely to have problems with memory and attention.
Because the average patient survives a full decade after being diagnosed with low-grade glioma, the researchers noted that large numbers of patients will survive long enough to suffer the negative cognitive effects of radiotherapy. For this reason, they recommended that doctors avoid using radiation in the treatment of glioma unless absolutely necessary -- such as in cases where the tumor returns after surgery, for example.
"It always depends on the patient, but if it is possible to defer radiotherapy, maybe people should," lead researcher Linda Douw said.
Cancer research scientist Jeremy Rees of the United Kingdom's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Honorary said that his hospital already avoids radiotherapy for low-grade glioma patients except when the tumor is already progressing or when the patient suffers from uncontrolled epilepsy.
"Surgery is generally a preferred option with chemotherapy or radiotherapy coming into play at a later stage, if the glioma progresses," he said. Read more