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Carcinomatous Meningitis (Leptomeningeal Carcinomatous)


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Leptomeningeal Carcinomatous (Carcinomatous Meningitis)

The most common cancers to involve the leptomeninges are breast cancer, lung cancer and melanomas, and now, because of dose-intense combination chemotherapies, even ovarian cancer is more common.

Unfortunately, cancer cells are too small to find on any scans unless they have grown into a lump. There can still be cancer cells in the body even though scans may have indicated that all the cancer had gone. Leptomeningeal metastasis (Lepteomeningeal Carcinomatous or Carcinomatous Meningitis) is a condition caused by cancer cells getting into the thin sheets of body tissue that surround and protect the brain and spine. These sheets are called the meninges. Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges. Carcinomatous just means acting like a cancer. Most people are familiar with the type of meningitis caused by an infection, but with carcinomatous meningitis, it is the cancer cells in the meninges that cause the inflammation, not an outside infection.

Cancer cells do not always develop into an active secondary tumor when they have spread to a new site. Sometimes they stay inactive for many years. Even after a cancer appears to have been successfully treated, some cancer cells may still be elsewhere in the body. No one knows why some cancer cells stay inactive or what triggers them to form a secondary cancer.

Tumor cells reach the meninges by hematogenous (blood) spread or by direct extension from pre-existing lesions and are then disseminated throughout the neuroaxis by the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid. Patients present with signs and symptoms from injury to nerves that traverse the subarachnoid space, direct tumor invasion into the brain or spinal cord, alterations in blood supply to the nervous system, obstruction of normal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow pathways or general interference with brain function.

Secondary cancers from a primary cancer can develop in different parts of the body, including the brain or spine. Cancer cells do not always develop into an active secondary tumor when they have spread to a new site. Sometimes they stay inactive for many years. So, even after a cancer appears to have been successfully treated, some cancer cells may still be elsewhere in the body. No one knows why some cancer cells stay inactive or what triggers them to form a secondary cancer.

Diagnosis is most commonly made by lumbar puncture, although the CSF cytology is persistently negative in about 10% of patients with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. Radiology studies may reveal subarachnoid masses, diffuse contrast enhancement of the meninges or hydrocephalus without a mass lesion.

Doctors estimate that about 5 out of every 100 patients who have cancer develop carcinomatous meningitis. It is most common in breast cancer, but it can occur with any type of cancer. The cancer cells in the meninges can cause a range of symptoms, including confusion, headaches and weakness.

The condition is very difficult to treat. The main aim is to help control symptoms and not cure the disease. Chemotherapy injected into the spinal fluid (via Ommya Reservoir in the brain) or radiotherapy to the brain are both treatments for Carcinomatous meningitis. Some patients respond to these treatments, but the prognosis is generally poor. There are no set guidelines for treating this condition as oncologists don't really know which treatments work best.

Without treatment, the median survival of patients is 4 - 6 weeks and death occurs from progressive neurologic dysfunction. Radiation therapy to symptomatic sites and disease visible on neuroimaging studies and intrathecal chemotherapy increases the median survival to 3 - 6 months. Major favorable prognostic factors include excellent performance status, absence of serious fixed neurologic deficits, normal CSF flow scans and absent or responsive systemic tumor.

Oncologists have been looking at using different combinations of chemotherapy drugs to treat Leptomenigeal Carcinomatous secondary to the primary cancer (Chemosensitivity Testing may help in this process). They found that giving both chemotherapy injected into the bloodstream and chemotherapy given directly into the spinal fluid may improve the outlook for some people. However, current available therapies are toxic though, and provide limited benefits.

Approximately 50% of lung and breast cancer patients who survive more than one year with Leptomeningeal metastasis treated with repeated injections of intrathecal methotrexate develop leukoencephalopathy which includes confusion, dementia, somnolence or focal neurologic signs. This usually occurs when intrathecal methotrexate is combined with irradiation and this combination should be avoided if possible. The leukoencephalopathy may improve if intrathecal methotrexate is discontinued, although it may also progress to coma and death. Leucovorin is a faster acting and more potent form of folic acid. It is used as a rescue after dose-intense methotrexate therapy to lessen and counteract the effects of methotrexate toxicity and other folic acid antagonists.

A medical oncologist involved with Chemosensitivity Testing has stated that their lab has only received maybe four Lepomeningeal Carcinomatous specimens over the years. Of those, only one specimen had sufficient tumor cells for testing. The problem is that it requires a specimen of cerebrospinal fluid, and it's not safe (with LC) to take more than a few ml of spinal fluid, and there are typically not enough cells to test more than one drug, if that. If there would be another site of the disease (lymph node, pleural fluid, etc.), then that could be biopsied. The biology of the disease, in all probability, would be similar to that of the lymph node, pleural fluid, etc. tumor.

If an assay test could not be performed and the disease had to be treated empirically, one protocol could be giving intrathecal thiotepa plus systemic gemcitabine (the gemcitabine given prior to the thiotepa). Thiotepa may be safely given intrathecally. Gemcitabine can probably be given intrathecally (it is somewhat similar to cytarabine), but it is thought that no one has ever done a clinical trial to prove that this is feasible and safe. In principal, the best shot would be to give intrathecal gemcitabine + intrathecal thiotepa.

Another alternative to Methotrexate is Cytarabine (cytosine arabinoside) or Ara-C. It is an anti-metabolite (like Methotrexate) which stops cells making and repairing DNA. Cancer cells need to make and repair DNA in order to grow and multiply. Ara-C is a clear liquid that can be dripped into a vein (intravenous infusion), into the spinal fluid (intrathecally) or by an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously).

I've been reading about clinical trials using Temodar (Temozolomide) instead of methotrexate, or Ara-C, or combination gemcitabine plus thiotepa

in treating patients with carcinomatous meningitis (leptomeningeal carcinomatous).

http://www.cancer.gov/search/ViewClinic ... on=patient


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  • 10 months later...


Isolated Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis (Carcinomatous Meningitis) after Taxane-Induced Major Remission in Patients with Advanced Breast Cancer

Christos Kosmasa, Nikolaos A. Malamosa, Nikolas B. Tsavarisc, Melina Stamatakib, Achilleas Gregorioua, Sofia Rokanaa, Maria Vartholomeoua, Minas J. Antonopoulosa

aDepartment of Medicine, Medical Oncology Unit and bDepartment of Cytopathology, Helena-Venizelou Hospital and cDepartment of Pathophysiology, Medical Oncology Unit, Laikon General Hospital, Athens University School of Medicine, Athens, Greece


Objectives: To identify the incidence of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (LMC), as the first site of systemic progression, in breast cancer patients after having obtained a major response (CR or near CR) to first-line taxane-based chemotherapy and compare these findings in retrospect with a matched-pair group of historical control patients from our database treated with nontaxane regimens.

Patients and Methods: Patients with histologically proven breast cancer having either metastatic disease or high-risk locoregional disease that were entered into treatment protocols with first-line taxane (paclitaxel or docetaxel) plus anthracyclines or mitoxantrone combinations and developed LMC as the first evidence of progression after major response (CR or >80% PR) were analyzed in the present study (n = 155), and compared, as regards the incidence of LMC, to a matched-pair retrospective group of 155 patients treated with nontaxane regimens in our unit.

Results: Seven patients with a median age of 54 years (range 40-70) developed LMC as their first evidence of progression after taxane-based regimens with a median interval of 6 months (range 2-18) from start of treatment to diagnosis of LMC. Five patients received intrathecal (i.t.) methotrexate treatment and whole brain radiotherapy (RT), while 1 patient received i.t. methotrexate and RT to the lumbar spine.

Two patients responded to treatment for LMC, while 2 achieved stable disease and 3 progressed. Two patients had elevated cerebrospinal fluid tumor markers (more than serum marker levels) that proved useful in monitoring response to treatment. Median survival after LMC was 3.6 months (range 1-17+) and correlated positively to the interval from the initiation of taxane-based therapy to LMC (r = 0.84, p = 0.019).

Seven out of 86 responders (8.13%) in the taxane group versus 1 out of 72 responders (1.4%) in the non-taxane-treated group developed LMC as the first sign of progression after a major response to first-line chemotherapy (p < 0.1).

Conclusions: LMC after a major response to front-line taxane-based regimens represents a grave disease manifestation and its incidence appears increased, but not significantly so, when compared retrospectively to non-taxane-treated patients.

Prospective evaluation of the incidence of LMC after taxane versus non-taxane-based treatment from large randomized multi-institutional trials is warranted and identification of potential prognostic factors might help to identify patients requiring appropriate prophylactic therapy.

American Journal Clinical Oncology 2002;63:6-15

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  • 2 months later...

In the last decade, the incidence of central nervous system (CNS) metastasis has increased. The very first reference I found of this was a NCI observational study in 1995 that reported experience in their clinic where recurrent systemic disease occurred in all patients for which they received dose-intense Paclitaxel (Taxol) therapy. Brain metastasis was the only site of disease recurrence. The cerebellum was involved in two out of three patients, presenting with headache, dizziness, unsteady gait, nausea and vomiting (all the things that happened to my wife in 1998, after her adjunct Taxol treatment in 1997).

This is what led me to research this further and found out about the rarity of ovarian cancer cells metastasizing to the brain. Ovarian cancer uncommonly involves the nervous system. Brain metastasis was a "rare" complication of ovarian cancer with only 67 well-documented cases in medical literature, until 1994. A multi-institutional study of 4027 ovarian cancer patients over 30 years identified only 32 cases while an autopsy study of ovarian cancer reported an incidence of 0.9%. Even more "rare" is the occurrance of Carcinomatous Meningitis. Until 1994, there have been only 14 cases reported. This presentation is similar to metastases from other solid tumors (breast, lung). (1)

In 2002, I came across a study by Christos Kosmas, M.D., consultant medical oncologist, Department of Medicine and Medical Oncology Unit at Helena-Venizelou Hospital, Athens, Greece entitled, "Carcinomatous Meningitis: Taxane-Induced," which found what is called "dissemination after taxane-based (Taxol) chemotherapy." The study conclusions stated that Carcinomatous Meningitis (a CNS metastasis) after a major response to front-line taxane-based regimens represents a grave disease manifestation and its incidence appears increased when compared retrospectively to non-taxane-treated patients. (2)

A commentary by Dr. Lawrence N. Shulman, Vice Chair for Clinical Services and adult Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, in the September, 2002 issue of The American Journal of Oncology Review, describes the complete lack of progress in the chemotherapeutic treatment of metastatic breast cancer since 1970. Dr. Shulman noted that a retrospective comparision of a well-characterized "standard-dose" database with a less well-characterized "high-dose" database suggested that there was increased early mortality for "high-dose" therapy. (3)

An editorial by Drs. V. Valero and G.N. Hortobagyi in the March 15, 2003 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reviewed all of the large, prospective, randomized trials published comparing taxane-based chemotherapy regimens. They conclude that none of these regimens have increased either complete response rates or overall survival, with median survivals remaining at two years or less, or precisely the same results which were being obtained over thirty years ago. (4)

In 2004, as reported at the 27th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, using a technique that quantifies circulating tumor cells, German investigators from Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, have shown that neoadjuvant chemotherapy with paclitaxel (taxol) causes a massive release of cells into the circulation, while at the same time reducing the size of the tumor. The finding could help explain the fact that complete pathologic responses do not correlate well with improvements in survival.

In the study, according to Katharina Pachmann, M.D., professor of experimental oncology and hematology, breast cancer patients undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy gave blood samples in which epithelial antigen-positive cells were isolated. Such cells are detected in most breast cancer patients but are rarely found in normal subjects. The investigators measured the levels of cirulating tumor cells before and during primary chemotherapy with several different cytotoxic agents.

Paclitaxel (taxol) produces the greatest degree of tumor shrinkage but also the greatest release of circulating tumor cells. In three different paclitaxel-containing regimens, circulating cell numbers massively increased, whereas tumor size decreased. These cells remained in the circulation for at least five months after surgery.

The tumor shrinks, but more cells are found in the circulation. This corresponds with a high pathologic complete response during paclitaxel treatment, but in the end, this is not reflected in improved survival. These cells are alive in the circulation. What this study has shown, so far, that in three different paclitaxel (taxol) containing regimens, as the tumor collapses (a clinical response, not cure), it produces the greatest release of circulating tumor cells. The study has not looked at any other combination regimens. (5)

The results of these kinds of study are coming out slowly and quietly (now that Taxol is off-patent) and indicate that taxol containing regimens didn't prolong survival over other more conventional and less expensive cytotoxic drugs. It may indeed give clincial response (tumor shrinkage), sometimes impressive, however, these are mostly short-lived and relapses after a response to taxanes (Taxol) are often dramatic.

With these cells being alive in the circulation, it may mean that a patient with invasive breast cancer without lymph node involvement (where systemic treatment "may" benefit), or a patient with invasive breast cancer that involves lymph nodes (where systemic treatment is "usually" recommended), would need additional (anti-estrogen) treatment, such as Tamoxifen (it may be given alone or in addition to chemotherapy, if given).

It has been shown that Tamoxifen treatment will reduce circulating tumor cells in some patients, but not all. So they develop a drug called Herceptin. Why? It has been shown that Herceptin treatment will reduce circulating tumor cells in patients with HER2-negative tumors, but less pronounced in HER2-positive tumors.

Does Herceptin really work on these circulating tumor cells? A study from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute identified central nervous system metastases in women who receive trastuzumab-based (Herceptin) therapy for metastatic breast carcinoma. Central nervous system disease is defined as one or more brain metastases or leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (carcinomatous meningitis).

Central nervous system metastases was identified in 34% of patients at a median of 16 months after diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and 6 months from the beginning of Herceptin treatment. Patients receiving Herceptin as first-line therapy for metastatic disease frequently developd brain metastases while responding to or stable on Herceptin. (6)

In 2006, another report that CNS relapses are common among breast cancer patients treated with a taxane-based chemotherapy regimen. Central Nervous System Relapse in Patients With Breast Cancer Is Associated With Advanced Stages, With CK-19 mRNA-positive Circulating Occult Tumor Cells and With Her2/neu-positive tumors.

During the past years it has been frequently observed that patients with breast cancer treated with a taxane-containing chemotherapy regimen, either in the adjuvant setting or in the metastatic setting, presenting central nervous system (CNS) involvement as the only evidence of disease progression. More studies were therefore interested to evaluate the incidence of CNS metastases in patients with early and advanced breast cancer treated with a taxane-containing chemotherapy regimen and to identify predictive factors for CNS relapse.

Recent studies reported that breast cancer patients who received a taxane-containing chemotherapy regimen had a significantly higher incidence of CNS metastases compared with that of patients treated with a nontaxane-containing regimen. There are also data indicating an increased risk for brain metastases in breast cancer patients receiving trastuzumab (Herceptin).

In the present study it was also possible to confirm the initial clinical observation that breast cancer patients who receive a taxane-containing chemotherapy regimen have a significantly higher incidence of CNS metastases compared with that of patients treated with a nontaxane-containing regimen.

The reasons for the association between treatment of breast cancer with a taxane-containing chemotherapy regimen and an increased incidence of CNS involvement could be that taxanes are very lipophilic, their concentration in the CNS is very low after their intravenous administration. Taxanes are unable to penetrate the intact blood-brain barrier, the concentration of radiolabeled paclitaxel in the cerebrospinal fluid is found to be significantly lower than in other organs, and thus undetectable in the brain, in the spinal cord or in any other site of the CNS.

Also, paclitaxel is exported from the p-glycoprotein and other ATP-binding cassette transporters placed at the luminal membrane of brain capillaries, as an explanation for the low concentrations of taxanes in the CNS.

Furthermore, the detection of cytokeratin 19 (CK-19) and of mRNA-positive circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the peripheral blood and the bone marrow of patients with breast cancer is correlated with increased incidence of relapse.

The aforementioned data suggest that taxanes may not penetrate well into the CNS, and therefore the CNS may represent tumor 'sanctuary' sites for taxane-containing chemotherapy regimens. A difference in the incidence of CNS relapses between patients with breast cancer and other solid tumors treated with taxanes was observed. (7)

The percentage of patients that must respond to a drug before it is approved by the FDA varies from as high as 80% to as low as 20%. Thereafter, it is used routinely for all patients with the same form of cancer, though unfortunately a drug that helps one person does not necessarily mean it will help all patients with the same diagnosis. The response rate for Taxol for FDA approval was 30%.

Taxol (Paclitaxel) is known as a taxane type of chemotherapy drug. Taxol is given into a vein, but in order for the body to absorb the drug, it must first be dissolved in a solution. The compound wouldn't dissolve very much in any solution. It was discovered that something Taxol would dissove in the might work in a reasonably safe intravenous solution in humans. It was an elixir made of castor oil and marketed as Cremophor EL. It was the only answer. However, this castor-oil carrier is suspected as the culprit behind the misery which includes nausea, vomiting, joint pain, appetite loss, brittle hair and tingling sensations in hands and feet (neuropathy). (8)

The American Cancer Society has mentioned that the solution can cause dangerous allergic reactions in many people, so patients "must" first take other drugs like steroids and antihistamines in "hopes" to prevent a bad reaction. The solution can also leach chemicals from regular plastic tubes used to deliver medication, so Taxol must be given through special tubing.

A new drug for breast cancer (Abraxane) is a new form of Taxol (Paclitaxel). Abraxane does not need to be dissolved in the castor oil solution and does not require special equipment to be given to patients. However, more of the women on Abraxane had numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. And more suffered nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain and anemia.

Taxol (Paclitaxel) is an extremely potent chemotherapy drug, often producing a number of side effects in patients. Side effects of Taxol (Paclitaxel) include severe allergic reactions, cardiovascular problems (such as changes in blood pressure), infections developing from white blood cell deficiencies, complete hair loss (apolecia), joint and muscle pain, irritation at the Taxol and other chemotherapy drugs injection site, low red blood cell count, mouth or lip sore, numbness or burning in the hands and feet, and stomach upset/diarrhea. (9)


(1) National Cancer Institute

(2) American Journal Clinical Oncology 2002;63:6-15

(3) Am J Oncology Rev 1(3):169-170, '02

(4) J Clin Oncol 21(6): 959-962, '03

(5) Oncol News Int'l, Vol 14, #5, May '05

(6) Cancer 2003 Jun 15;97(12):2972-7

(7) Breast Cancer Res. 2006;8(4)2006 BioMed Central, Ltd.

(8) Office of Research, Florida State University

(9) Bionumerik

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I know prevention and early detection is very important. Hopefully on that side, cancer medicine will improve upon it, some day. Until then, more and more cancer patients are being subjected to LC disease, most not knowing they had it (even some doctors). Over fifty percent of LC disease used to be diagnosed postmortem. With a little understanding, more and more cancer patients can have a better chance at fighting this disease. I experienced this disease first hand with my wife and what information I had accumulated from it, was asked to post it where I could.

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Jen. My wife had ovarian cancer in 1972. However, the most common cancers to involve the leptomeninges are breast cancer, lung cancer and melanomas, and now, because of dose-intense Taxol combination chemotherapies, even ovarian cancer is more common.

In 1996, she had a metastatic transdiaphragmatic tumor with attachment to the lung and other midline structures of the chest. That recurrent ovarian cancer was surgically excised. Parts of those structures were surgically resected (including one rib).

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Thank you for posting this. My mother suffered from memory problems and dementia for two years before she was diagnosed with lung cancer. In retrospect, I always believed that the cancer was causing her symptoms. She had every brain test and dementia test available (MRI's & CT scans & EEG). They could not find anything wrong with her brain. She may have been suffering from this. She was also weak and had headaches.


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