What is the role of antineoplastic chemotherapy in the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)?

Updated: Jul 01, 2019
  • Author: Jeffrey N Bruce, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert H Engelhard, III, MD, PhD, FACS, FAANS  more...
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Chemotherapy – Antineoplastic agents   [78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83]

Although the optimal chemotherapeutic regimen for glioblastoma is not defined at present, several studies have suggested that more than 25% of patients obtain a significant survival benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy. Meta-analyses have suggested that adjuvant chemotherapy results in a 6-10% increase in 1-year survival rate. [84, 85]

Temozolomide is an orally active alkylating agent that is used for persons newly diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme. It was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 2005. Studies have shown that the drug was well tolerated and provided a survival benefit. Adjuvant and concomitant temozolomide with radiation was associated with significant improvements in median progression-free survival over radiation alone (6.9 vs 5 mo), overall survival (14.6 vs 12.1 mo), and the likelihood of being alive in 2 years (26% vs 10%).

Nitrosoureas: BCNU (carmustine)-polymer wafers (Gliadel) were approved by the FDA in 2002. Though Gliadel wafers are used by some for initial treatment, they have shown only a modest increase in median survival over placebo (13.8 vs. 11.6 months) in the largest such phase III trial, and are associated with increased rates of CSF leak and increased intracranial pressure secondary to edema and mass effect. [86, 87]

MGMT is a DNA repair enzyme that contributes to temozolomide resistance. Methylation of the MGMT promoter, found in approximately 45% of glioblastoma multiformes, results in an epigenetic silencing of the gene, decreasing the tumor cell's capacity for DNA repair and increasing susceptibility to temozolomide. [88] Note the following:

  • When patients with and without MGMT promoter methylation were treated with temozolomide, the groups had median survivals of 21.7 versus 12.7 months, and 2-year survival rates of 46% versus 13.8%, respectively.
  • Though temozolomide is currently a first-line agent in the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, unfavorable MGMT methylation status could help select patients appropriate for future therapeutic investigations. [89]

  • O6-benzylguanine and other inhibitors of MGMT as well as RNA interference-mediated silencing of MGMT offer promising avenues to increase the effectiveness of temozolomide and other alkylating antineoplastics, and such agents are under active study. [89, 90, 37]

Carmustine (BCNU) and cis -platinum (cisplatin) have been the primary chemotherapeutic agents used against malignant gliomas. All agents in use have no greater than a 30-40% response rate, and most fall into the range of 10-20%.

Data from the University of California at San Francisco indicate that, for the treatment of glioblastomas, surgery followed by radiation therapy leads to 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival rates of 44%, 6%, and 0%, respectively. By comparison, surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy using nitrosourea-based regimens resulted in 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival rates of 46%, 18%, and 18%, respectively.

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