After radiosurgery of malignant tumors, it can be difficult to discriminate between transient treatment effects, radiation necrosis, and tumor progression on post-treatment imaging. Misinterpretation of an enlarging lesion may lead to inappropriate treatment and contribute to disagreements about treatment efficacy. In an effort to clarify this problem, we reviewed our experience with interpreting post-radiosurgical imaging in patients with malignant primary and secondary brain tumors. We reviewed results of radiosurgery of 30 malignant gliomas and 35 metastatic brain tumors with minimum follow up of 1 year or until death. Of 30 gliomas, 73% were larger a mean of 13 weeks after radiosurgery. Of 35 metatstatic tumors, 22% were larger a mean of 10 weeks after radiosurgery. Eleven had 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) of enlarging lesions. Eight showed increased activity with respect to brain; three decreased activity. Of the eight, six predicted incorrectly based upon the patients' subsequent courses (all alive, mean follow up of 27 months), and two correctly, with the patients dying from the imaged lesions 8 and 13 months later. Of the three with FDG uptake less than brain, one patient was alive with 32 weeks of follow up, and two patients died from the imaged lesion 13 and 21 months later. Radiographic enlargement after radiosurgery is common, especially for gliomas. Physicians caring for these patients should be aware of this phenomenon and be cautious in interpreting post-treatment images. MRI appearance may be useful for metastases. FDG-PET seems unreliable. Further evaluation of Tl-201 and HMPAO SPECT or MRS is warranted.
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