Particularly with improving survival times for cancer patients, re-irradiation is an increasingly important consideration. Eight percent to 42% of patients will undergo re-irradiation following palliative bone radiotherapy.13 No prospective clinical studies of re-irradiation outcomes have been published, but perhaps not surprisingly, single-dose palliative radiotherapy appears to require re-irradiation more frequently due to nonresponsive or recurring metastatic bone tumors than does multifraction radiotherapy regimens.13

A systematic review of 10 published studies, found that overall, 20% of clinical trial participants undergo re-irradiation, and that pain alleviation was achieved in only 58% of those patients.13 Forty percent of patients represented in the review did not benefit from re-irradiation.13 Additional studies are clearly needed, but based on the three reviewed studies that included adverse events data, re-irradiation-associated toxicities include mostly mild (grade 1 or 2) nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and severe fatigue.13

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When bone metastases or their recurrence are widespread throughout the skeleton, systematic administration of bone-seeking radionuclides, bisphosphonates, or denosumab are appropriate.13 But for localized, nonresponding or recurrent metastatic bone pain, the authors find a focal approach seems more suitable.13 “Options include more focused radiotherapy, such as stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) for spinal metastases, as well as image-guided therapies,” said the authors.


Radioresistant tumor recurrence frequently precludes effective re-irradiation, highlighting the need for alternative modalities for bone tumor palliation. Newer treatment modalities that might help patients for whom radiotherapy is no longer viable are entering the clinic.

Two relatively new treatments are microwave tumor ablation and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided focused ultrasound ablation (MRIgFUS), a form of high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU).14  In 2012, the FDA approved MRIgFUS for bone metastasis palliation in patients whose tumors do not respond to or who are not candidates for external-beam radiotherapeutic palliation.14 ONA 

Bryant Furlow is a medical journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 


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