Metastasis to the brain is frequent in adult cancer patients but rare among children. Advances in primary tumor treatment and the associated prolonged survival are said to have increased the frequency of brain metastasis in children. The authors present a series of cases of brain metastases in children diagnosed with a solid primary cancer, evaluate brain metastasis trends, and describe tumor type, patterns of occurrence, and prognosis.
Patients with brain metastases whose primary cancer was diagnosed during childhood were identified in the 1990–2012 Tumor Registry at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. A review of their hospital records provided demographic data, history, and clinical data, including primary cancer sites, number and location of brain metastases, sites of extracranial metastases, treatments, and outcomes.
Fifty-four pediatric patients (1.4%) had a brain metastasis from a solid primary tumor. Sarcomas were the most common (54%), followed by melanoma (15%). The patients' median ages at diagnosis of the primary cancer and the brain metastasis were 11.37 years and 15.03 years, respectively. The primary cancer was localized at diagnosis in 48% of patients and disseminated regionally in only 14%. The primary tumor and brain metastasis presented synchronously in 15% of patients, and other extracranial metastases were present when the primary cancer was diagnosed. The remaining patients were diagnosed with brain metastasis after initiation of primary cancer treatment, with a median presentation interval of 17 months after primary cancer diagnosis (range 2–77 months). At the time of diagnosis, the brain metastasis was the first site of systemic metastasis in only 4 (8%) of the 51 patients for whom data were available. Up to 70% of patients had lung metastases when brain metastases were found. Symptoms led to the brain metastasis diagnosis in 65% of cases. Brain metastases were single in 60% of cases and multiple in 35%; 6% had only leptomeningeal disease. The median Kaplan-Meier estimates of survival after diagnoses of primary cancer and brain metastasis were 29 months (95% CI 24–34 months) and 9 months (95% CI 6–11 months), respectively. Untreated patients survived for a median of 0.9 months after brain metastasis diagnosis (95% CI 0.3–1.5 months). Those receiving treatment survived for a median of 8 months after initiation of therapy (95% CI 6–11 months).
The results of this study challenge the current notion of an increased incidence of brain metastases among children with a solid primary cancer. The earlier diagnosis of the primary cancer, prior to its dissemination to distant sites (especially the brain), and initiation of presumably more effective treatments may support such an observation. However, although the actual number of cases may not be increasing, the prognosis after the diagnosis of a brain metastasis remains poor regardless of the management strategy.