Overlapping volumes in re-irradiation for head and neck cancer - an important factor for patient selection

Head and Neck Cancer

Embring A, et al. Radiat Oncol 2020.


BACKGROUND: There is a lack of consensus concerning the definition of re-irradiation and re-irradiation volumes in head and neck cancer (HNC). The aim of the present study is to introduce a more strict definition of the re-irradiated volume that might better predict the risk of serious side-effects from treatment.

METHODS: Fifty-four consecutive patients re-irradiated for HNC cancer were retrospectively analysed. CT images were deformably registered and the dose distributions accumulated after conversion to EQD2. Patients with a cumulative dose of ≥100 Gy in the overlapping volume (V100) were included in the study. Survival data and radiation-related acute and late toxicities were recorded.

RESULTS: The overall survival of all included patients at 2 and 5 years was 42.6 and 27.3% respectively and the progression free survival at 2 and 5 years was 32.5 and 28.5% respectively. The overall rate of any event of severe (grade ≥ 3) acute and late toxicity was 26 and 51%, respectively. We found that severe acute toxicity was more common in patients who had a larger overlapping volume (V100 > mean) where 43% of the patients experienced grade ≥ 3 acute toxicity, compared to the patients with smaller overlapping volumes (V100 < mean) where only 11% had severe toxicity (p = 0.02). The seemingly high rates of late toxicity in the present study could be due to the use of a more strict definition of re-irradiation. In previous studies also patients with low dose overlap are included and our results imply that there is a risk that previous studies might have overestimated the risk-benefit ratio in re-irradiation of HNC.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study describes the outcome of a patient material where a more strict definition of the re-irradiated volume is used. With this definition, which could better describe the volume of highest risk for serious complications, we found that larger such overlapping volumes result in an increase in severe acute side-effects. A clear definition of re-irradiation and re-irradiation volumes is of utmost importance for future studies of HNC to make results from different studies