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Childhood Central Nervous System Embryonal Tumors Treatment (PDQ®)

Treatment of Recurrent Childhood CNS Embryonal Tumors

Recurrence of all forms of central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumors is not uncommon and usually occurs within 36 months of treatment. However, recurrent tumors may develop many years after initial treatment.[1,2] Disease may recur at the primary site or may be disseminated at the time of relapse. Sites of noncontiguous relapse may include the spinal leptomeninges, intracranial sites, and cerebrospinal fluid, in isolation or in any combination, and may be associated with primary tumor relapse.[1-3] Extraneural disease relapse may occur but is rare and is seen primarily in patients treated with radiation therapy alone.[4][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

Studies have found that even in patients with nondisseminated disease at diagnosis, and independent of the dose of radiation therapy or the type of chemotherapy, approximately one-third of patients will relapse at the primary tumor site alone, one-third will relapse at the primary tumor site plus distant sites, and one-third will relapse at distant sites without relapse at the primary site.[1-3]

Treatment Options

There are no standard treatment options for recurrent childhood CNS embryonal tumors.

In most children, treatment is palliative and disease control is transient in patients previously treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy, with over 90% progressing within 12 to 18 months. For young children, predominantly those younger than 3 years at diagnosis who were never treated with radiation therapy, longer-term control with reoperation, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy is possible.[3,5-7]

Treatment approaches may include the following:


At the time of relapse, a complete evaluation for extent of recurrence is indicated for all embryonal tumors. Biopsy or surgical resection may be necessary for confirmation of relapse because other entities such as secondary tumors and treatment-related brain necrosis may be clinically indistinguishable from tumor recurrence. The need for surgical intervention must be individualized on the basis of the initial tumor type, the length of time between initial treatment and the reappearance of the lesion, and clinical symptomatology.

Radiation therapy

Patients with recurrent embryonal tumors who have already received radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be candidates for further radiation therapy depending on the site and dose of previous radiation, including reirradiation at the primary tumor site, focal areas of radiation therapy to sites of disseminated disease, and rarely, craniospinal radiation therapy. In most cases, such therapy is palliative. Stereotactic radiation therapy and/or salvage chemotherapy can also be used (see below).[8]


  1. Recurrent CNS embryonal tumors can be responsive to chemotherapeutic agents used singularly or in combination, including cyclophosphamide, cisplatin, carboplatin, lomustine, etoposide, topotecan, and antiangiogenic metronomic therapy.[5,9-16]; [17,18][Level of evidence: 2A]
    • Approximately 30% to 50% of these patients will have objective responses to conventional chemotherapy, but long-term disease control is rare.
  2. For select patients with recurrent medulloblastoma, primarily infants and young children who were treated at the time of diagnosis with chemotherapy alone and developed local recurrence, long-term disease control may be obtained after further treatment with chemotherapy plus local radiation therapy; this potential may be greatest in patients who are able to undergo complete resection of the recurrent disease.[19][Level of evidence: 2A]; [20][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue

For patients who have previously received radiation therapy, higher-dose chemotherapeutic regimens, supported with autologous bone marrow rescue or peripheral stem cell support, have been used with variable results.[6,7,21-24][Level of evidence: 2A]; [25][Level of evidence: 3iiB]; [26,27][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

  1. With such regimens, objective response is frequent, occurring in 50% to 75% of patients; however, long-term disease control is obtained in less than 30% of patients and is primarily seen in patients in first relapse and in those with only localized disease at the time of relapse.[7]; [24][Level of evidence: 2A]; [25][Level of evidence: 3iiB]
  2. Additionally, results from national trials for relapsed medulloblastoma that specified intent to transplant as part of their treatment plan showed that only approximately 5% of patients initiating retrieval therapy achieve long-term disease-free survival with this strategy.[24,28] Thus, studies that report from the time of transplant overestimate the benefit of transplant-based approaches for the total population of relapsing patients.
  3. Long-term disease control for patients with disseminated disease is infrequent.[29][Level of evidence: 3iA]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood pineoblastoma, childhood ependymoblastoma, recurrent childhood medulloblastoma, recurrent childhood supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumor and childhood medulloepithelioma. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Taylor RE, Bailey CC, Robinson K, et al.: Results of a randomized study of preradiation chemotherapy versus radiotherapy alone for nonmetastatic medulloblastoma: The International Society of Paediatric Oncology/United Kingdom Children's Cancer Study Group PNET-3 Study. J Clin Oncol 21 (8): 1581-91, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Packer RJ, Goldwein J, Nicholson HS, et al.: Treatment of children with medulloblastomas with reduced-dose craniospinal radiation therapy and adjuvant chemotherapy: A Children's Cancer Group Study. J Clin Oncol 17 (7): 2127-36, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Oyharcabal-Bourden V, Kalifa C, Gentet JC, et al.: Standard-risk medulloblastoma treated by adjuvant chemotherapy followed by reduced-dose craniospinal radiation therapy: a French Society of Pediatric Oncology Study. J Clin Oncol 23 (21): 4726-34, 2005. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Mazloom A, Zangeneh AH, Paulino AC: Prognostic factors after extraneural metastasis of medulloblastoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 78 (1): 72-8, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Gentet JC, Doz F, Bouffet E, et al.: Carboplatin and VP 16 in medulloblastoma: a phase II Study of the French Society of Pediatric Oncology (SFOP). Med Pediatr Oncol 23 (5): 422-7, 1994. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Kadota RP, Mahoney DH, Doyle J, et al.: Dose intensive melphalan and cyclophosphamide with autologous hematopoietic stem cells for recurrent medulloblastoma or germinoma. Pediatr Blood Cancer 51 (5): 675-8, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Butturini AM, Jacob M, Aguajo J, et al.: High-dose chemotherapy and autologous hematopoietic progenitor cell rescue in children with recurrent medulloblastoma and supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors: the impact of prior radiotherapy on outcome. Cancer 115 (13): 2956-63, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. Abe M, Tokumaru S, Tabuchi K, et al.: Stereotactic radiation therapy with chemotherapy in the management of recurrent medulloblastomas. Pediatr Neurosurg 42 (2): 81-8, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Friedman HS, Oakes WJ: The chemotherapy of posterior fossa tumors in childhood. J Neurooncol 5 (3): 217-29, 1987. [PUBMED Abstract]
  10. Needle MN, Molloy PT, Geyer JR, et al.: Phase II study of daily oral etoposide in children with recurrent brain tumors and other solid tumors. Med Pediatr Oncol 29 (1): 28-32, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
  11. Gaynon PS, Ettinger LJ, Baum ES, et al.: Carboplatin in childhood brain tumors. A Children's Cancer Study Group Phase II trial. Cancer 66 (12): 2465-9, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
  12. Allen JC, Walker R, Luks E, et al.: Carboplatin and recurrent childhood brain tumors. J Clin Oncol 5 (3): 459-63, 1987. [PUBMED Abstract]
  13. Ashley DM, Longee D, Tien R, et al.: Treatment of patients with pineoblastoma with high dose cyclophosphamide. Med Pediatr Oncol 26 (6): 387-92, 1996. [PUBMED Abstract]
  14. Lefkowitz IB, Packer RJ, Siegel KR, et al.: Results of treatment of children with recurrent medulloblastoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumors with lomustine, cisplatin, and vincristine. Cancer 65 (3): 412-7, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
  15. Friedman HS, Mahaley MS Jr, Schold SC Jr, et al.: Efficacy of vincristine and cyclophosphamide in the therapy of recurrent medulloblastoma. Neurosurgery 18 (3): 335-40, 1986. [PUBMED Abstract]
  16. Castello MA, Clerico A, Deb G, et al.: High-dose carboplatin in combination with etoposide (JET regimen) for childhood brain tumors. Am J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 12 (3): 297-300, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
  17. Minturn JE, Janss AJ, Fisher PG, et al.: A phase II study of metronomic oral topotecan for recurrent childhood brain tumors. Pediatr Blood Cancer 56 (1): 39-44, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  18. Peyrl A, Chocholous M, Kieran MW, et al.: Antiangiogenic metronomic therapy for children with recurrent embryonal brain tumors. Pediatr Blood Cancer 59 (3): 511-7, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  19. Ridola V, Grill J, Doz F, et al.: High-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue followed by posterior fossa irradiation for local medulloblastoma recurrence or progression after conventional chemotherapy. Cancer 110 (1): 156-63, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
  20. Bakst RL, Dunkel IJ, Gilheeney S, et al.: Reirradiation for recurrent medulloblastoma. Cancer 117 (21): 4977-82, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  21. Dunkel IJ, Boyett JM, Yates A, et al.: High-dose carboplatin, thiotepa, and etoposide with autologous stem-cell rescue for patients with recurrent medulloblastoma. Children's Cancer Group. J Clin Oncol 16 (1): 222-8, 1998. [PUBMED Abstract]
  22. Park JE, Kang J, Yoo KH, et al.: Efficacy of high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation in patients with relapsed medulloblastoma: a report on the Korean Society for Pediatric Neuro-Oncology (KSPNO)-S-053 study. J Korean Med Sci 25 (8): 1160-6, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  23. Gilman AL, Jacobsen C, Bunin N, et al.: Phase I study of tandem high-dose chemotherapy with autologous peripheral blood stem cell rescue for children with recurrent brain tumors: a Pediatric Blood and MarrowTransplant Consortium study. Pediatr Blood Cancer 57 (3): 506-13, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  24. Pizer B, Donachie PH, Robinson K, et al.: Treatment of recurrent central nervous system primitive neuroectodermal tumours in children and adolescents: results of a Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group study. Eur J Cancer 47 (9): 1389-97, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  25. Massimino M, Gandola L, Spreafico F, et al.: No salvage using high-dose chemotherapy plus/minus reirradiation for relapsing previously irradiated medulloblastoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 73 (5): 1358-63, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  26. Gururangan S, Krauser J, Watral MA, et al.: Efficacy of high-dose chemotherapy or standard salvage therapy in patients with recurrent medulloblastoma. Neuro Oncol 10 (5): 745-51, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  27. Dunkel IJ, Gardner SL, Garvin JH Jr, et al.: High-dose carboplatin, thiotepa, and etoposide with autologous stem cell rescue for patients with previously irradiated recurrent medulloblastoma. Neuro Oncol 12 (3): 297-303, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  28. Gajjar A, Pizer B: Role of high-dose chemotherapy for recurrent medulloblastoma and other CNS primitive neuroectodermal tumors. Pediatr Blood Cancer 54 (4): 649-51, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  29. Bowers DC, Gargan L, Weprin BE, et al.: Impact of site of tumor recurrence upon survival for children with recurrent or progressive medulloblastoma. J Neurosurg 107 (1 Suppl): 5-10, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: December 11, 2014