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Ewing Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

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Treatment Option Overview

Patients should be evaluated by specialists from the appropriate disciplines (e.g., radiologist, chemotherapist, pathologist, surgical or orthopedic oncologist, and radiation oncologist) as early as possible. Appropriate imaging studies of the site should be obtained before biopsy. The surgical or orthopedic oncologist who will perform the definitive surgery should be involved before or during the biopsy so that the incision can be placed in an acceptable location. This is especially important if it is thought that the lesion can be totally excised or if a limb salvage procedure may be attempted. Biopsy should be from soft tissue as often as possible to avoid increasing the risk of fracture.[1] The radiation oncologist and pathologist should be consulted before biopsy/surgery in order to be sure that the incision will not compromise the radiation port and so that multiple types of tissue samples are obtained. It is important to obtain fresh tissue, whenever possible, for cytogenetics and molecular pathology. A second option is to perform a needle biopsy as long as adequate tissue for molecular biology and cytogenetics is obtained.[2]

The successful treatment of patients with Ewing sarcoma requires systemic chemotherapy [3-9] in conjunction with either surgery or radiation therapy or both modalities for local tumor control.[10-14] In general, patients receive preoperative chemotherapy before instituting local control measures. In patients who undergo surgery, surgical margins and histologic response are considered in planning postoperative therapy. Most patients with metastatic disease have a good initial response to preoperative chemotherapy; however, in most cases, the disease is only partially controlled or recurs.[15-18] Patients with lung as the sole metastatic site have a better prognosis than patients with metastases to bone and/or bone marrow. Adequate local control for metastatic sites, particularly bone metastases, may be an important issue.

Chemotherapy for Ewing Sarcoma

Multidrug chemotherapy for Ewing sarcoma always includes vincristine, doxorubicin, ifosfamide, and etoposide. Most protocols use cyclophosphamide as well. Certain protocols incorporate dactinomycin. The mode of administration and dose intensity of cyclophosphamide within courses differs markedly between protocols. A European Intergroup Cooperative Ewing Sarcoma Study (EICESS) trial suggested that 1.2 grams of cyclophosphamide produced a similar event-free survival (EFS) compared with 6 grams of ifosfamide in patients with lower-risk disease, and identified a trend toward better EFS for patients with localized Ewing sarcoma and higher-risk disease when treatment included etoposide (GER-GPOH-EICESS-92).[19][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Protocols in the United States generally alternate courses of vincristine, cyclophosphamide, and doxorubicin with courses of ifosfamide/etoposide,[7] while European protocols generally combine vincristine, doxorubicin, and an alkylating agent with or without etoposide in a single treatment cycle.[9]

An international consortium of European countries conducted the EURO-EWING-INTERGROUP-EE99 (NCT00020566) trial from 2000 to 2010.[20][Level of evidence: 1iiA] All patients received induction therapy with six cycles of vincristine, ifosfamide, doxorubicin, and etoposide (VIDE), followed by local control, and then one cycle of vincristine, dactinomycin, and ifosfamide (VAI). Patients were classified as standard risk if they had localized disease and good histologic response to therapy or if they had localized tumors less than 200 mL in volume at presentation and were treated with radiation therapy alone as local treatment. Standard-risk patients (n = 856) were randomly assigned to receive maintenance therapy with seven cycles of vincristine, dactinomycin, and cyclophosphamide (VAC) or VAI. There was no significant difference in EFS or overall survival (OS). Acute renal toxicity was lower in the VAC arm than in the VAI arm, but long-term renal function outcome and fertility analyses are still pending. Three-year EFS for this low-risk population was 77%. It is difficult to compare this outcome with that of other large series because the study population excluded patients with poor response to initial therapy or patients with tumors more than 200 mL in volume who received local-control therapy with radiation alone. All other published series report results for all patients who present without clinically detectable metastasis; thus, these other series included patients with poor response and patients with larger primary tumors treated with radiation alone, all of whom were excluded from the EURO-EWING-INTERGROUP-EE99 study.

The duration of primary chemotherapy ranges from 6 months to approximately 1 year. A randomized clinical trial (COG-AEWS0031 [NCT00006734]) from the Children’s Oncology Group showed that for patients presenting without metastases, the administration of cycles of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and vincristine alternating with cycles of ifosfamide and etoposide at 2-week intervals achieved superior EFS (5-year EFS, 73%) than alternating cycles at 3-week intervals (5-year EFS, 65%).[21]

Local control for Ewing sarcoma

Treatment approaches for Ewing sarcoma titrate therapeutic aggressiveness with the goal of maximizing local control while minimizing morbidity.

While surgery is effective and appropriate for patients who can undergo complete resection with acceptable morbidity, children who have unresectable tumors or who would suffer loss of function are treated with radiation therapy alone. Those who undergo gross resections with microscopic residual disease may benefit from adjuvant radiation therapy. Randomized trials that directly compare both modalities do not exist, and their relative roles remain controversial. Although retrospective institutional series suggest superior local control and survival with surgery rather than radiation therapy, most of these studies are compromised by selection bias. Data for patients with pelvic primary Ewing sarcoma from a North American intergroup trial showed no difference in local control or survival based on local-control modality—surgery alone, radiation therapy alone, or radiation plus surgery.[22]

For patients who undergo gross total resection with microscopic residual disease, the value of adjuvant radiation therapy is controversial. Investigations addressing this issue are retrospective and nonrandomized, limiting their value. Investigators from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital reported 39 patients with localized Ewing sarcoma who received both surgery and radiation. Local failure for patients with positive and negative margins was 17% and 5%, respectively, and OS was 71% and 94%, respectively.[13] However, in a large retrospective Italian study, 45 Gy adjuvant radiation therapy for patients with inadequate margins did not appear to improve either local control or disease-free survival.[14] It is not known whether higher doses of radiation therapy could improve outcome. These investigators concluded that patients who are anticipated to have suboptimal surgery should be considered for definitive radiation therapy.

Thus, surgery is chosen as definitive local therapy for suitable patients, but radiation therapy is appropriate for patients with unresectable disease or those who would experience functional compromise by definitive surgery. The possibility of impaired function needs to be measured against the possibility of second tumors in the radiation field (see below). Adjuvant radiation therapy should be considered for patients with residual microscopic disease, inadequate margins, or who have viable tumor in the resected specimen and close margins.

When preoperative assessment has suggested a high probability that surgical margins will be close or positive, preoperative radiation therapy has achieved tumor shrinkage and allowed surgical resection with clear margins.[23]

High-Dose Therapy With Stem Cell Rescue for Ewing Sarcoma

For patients with a high risk of relapse with conventional treatments, certain investigators have utilized high-dose chemotherapy with hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) as consolidation treatment, in an effort to improve outcome.[24-35] In a prospective study, patients with bone and/or bone marrow metastases at diagnosis were treated with aggressive chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation and HSCT if a good initial response was achieved. The study showed no benefit for HSCT compared with historical controls.[29] A retrospective review using international bone marrow transplant registries compared outcome after treatment with reduced-intensity conditioning to high-intensity conditioning followed by allogeneic stem cell transplant for patients with Ewing sarcoma at high risk for relapse.[36][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] There was no difference in outcome and the authors concluded that this suggested the absence of a clinically relevant graft-versus-tumor effect against Ewing sarcoma tumor cells with current approaches. Multiple small studies that report benefit for HSCT have been published but are difficult to interpret because only patients who have a good initial response to standard chemotherapy are considered for HSCT. The role of high-dose therapy followed by stem cell rescue is being investigated in a Euro-Ewing clinical trial (EURO-EWING-INTERGROUP-EE99) for patients that present with pulmonary metastases.

Ewing Sarcoma/Specific Sites

Separate journal articles have been written that discuss diagnostic findings, treatment, and outcome of patients with bone lesions at the following sites:

  • Pelvis.[37-39]
  • Femur.[40,41]
  • Humerus.[42,43]
  • Hand and foot.[44,45]
  • Chest wall/rib.[46-49]
  • Head and neck.[50]
  • Spine/sacrum.[51-54]

Extraosseous Ewing Sarcoma

Extraosseous Ewing sarcoma is biologically similar to Ewing sarcoma arising in bone. Until recently, most children and young adults with extraosseous Ewing sarcoma were treated on protocols designed for the treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma. This is important because many of the treatment regimens for rhabdomyosarcoma do not include an anthracycline, which is a critical component of current treatment regimens for Ewing sarcoma. Currently, patients with extraosseous Ewing sarcoma are eligible for studies that include Ewing sarcoma of bone.

From 1987 to 2004, 111 patients with nonmetastatic extraosseous Ewing sarcoma were enrolled on the RMS-88 and RMS-96 protocols.[55] Patients with initial complete tumor resection received ifosfamide, vincristine, and actinomycin (IVA) while patients with residual tumor received IVA plus doxorubicin (VAIA) or IVA plus carboplatin, epirubicin, and etoposide (CEVAIE). Seventy-six percent of patients received radiation. The 5-year EFS and OS were 59% and 69%, respectively. In a multivariate analysis, independent adverse prognostic factors included axial primary, tumor size greater than 10 cm, Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Studies Group III, and lack of radiation therapy.

Two hundred thirty-six patients with extraosseous Ewing sarcoma were entered on studies of the German Pediatric Oncology Group.[56] The median age at diagnosis was 15 years and 133 patients were male. Primary tumor site was either extremity (n = 62) or central site (n = 174). Sixty of 236 patients had metastases at diagnosis. Chemotherapy consisted of vincristine, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and actinomycin (VACA); CEVAIE; or VIDE. The 5-year EFS and OS were 49% and 60%, respectively. Five-year survival was 70% for patients with localized disease and 33% for patients with metastasis at diagnosis. OS in patients with localized disease did not seem related to tumor site or size. In a retrospective French study, patients with extraosseous Ewing sarcoma were treated using a rhabdomyosarcoma regimen (no anthracyclines) or a Ewing sarcoma regimen (includes anthracyclines). Patients receiving the anthracycline-containing regimen had a significantly better EFS and OS compared with patients receiving no anthracyclines.[57,58]

Cutaneous Ewing sarcoma is a soft tissue tumor in the skin or subcutaneous tissue that seems to behave as a less-aggressive tumor than primary bone or soft tissue Ewing sarcoma. Tumors can form throughout the body, although the extremity is the most common site, and they are almost always localized. In a review of 78 reported cases, some lacking molecular confirmation, the OS was 91%. Adequate local control, defined as a complete resection with negative margins, radiation therapy, or a combination, significantly reduced the incidence of relapse. Standard chemotherapy for Ewing sarcoma should be used for these patients because there are no data to suggest which patients could be treated less aggressively.[59,60]

Subsequent Neoplasms

Patients treated for Ewing sarcoma have a significantly higher risk of developing subsequent neoplasms than patients in the general population.

Treatment-related acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) have generally been reported to occur in 1% to 2% of survivors of Ewing sarcoma,[61]; [62][Level of evidence: 3iiiDi] although some dose-intensive regimens appear to be associated with a higher risk of hematological malignancy.[63,64]; [65][Level of evidence: 3ii] Treatment-related AML and MDS arise most commonly at 2 to 5 years after diagnosis.

Survivors of Ewing sarcoma remain at increased risk of developing a subsequent solid tumor throughout their lifetime. Sarcomas usually occur within the prior radiation field.[66,67] The risk of developing a sarcoma after radiation therapy is dose-dependent, with higher doses associated with an increased risk of sarcoma development.[61]; [62][Level of evidence: 3iiiDi] The cumulative incidence of subsequent neoplasms in children treated for Ewing sarcoma between 1970 and 1986 at 25 years after diagnosis was 9.0% (confidence interval, 5.8–12.2). Most of these patients received radiation therapy; comparable long-term data do not yet exist for significant numbers of patients who did not receive radiation therapy.[68]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for a full discussion of the late effects of cancer treatment in children and adolescents.)


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  • Updated: April 3, 2015