Proton Beam Reirradiation for Recurrent Head and Neck Cancer: Multi-institutional Report on Feasibility and Early Outcomes

Paul B. Romesser, Oren Cahlon, Eli D. Scher, Eugen B. Hug, Kevin Sine, Carl Deselm, Jana L. Fox, Dennis Mah, Madhur K. Garg, John Han-Chih Chang, Nancy Y. Lee

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Purpose Reirradiation therapy (re-RT) is the only potentially curative treatment option for patients with locally recurrent head and neck cancer (HNC). Given the significant morbidity with head and neck re-RT, interest in proton beam radiation therapy (PBRT) has increased. We report the first multi-institutional clinical experience using curative-intent PBRT for re-RT in recurrent HNC. Methods and Materials A retrospective analysis of ongoing prospective data registries from 2 hybrid community practice and academic proton centers was conducted. Patients with recurrent HNC who underwent at least 1 prior course of definitive-intent external beam radiation therapy (RT) were included. Acute and late toxicities were assessed with the National Cancer Institute Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events version 4.0 and the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group late radiation morbidity scoring system, respectively. The cumulative incidence of locoregional failure was calculated with death as a competing risk. The actuarial 12-month freedom-from-distant metastasis and overall survival rates were calculated with the Kaplan-Meier method. Results Ninety-two consecutive patients were treated with curative-intent re-RT with PBRT between 2011 and 2014. Median follow-up among surviving patients was 13.3 months and among all patients was 10.4 months. The median time between last RT and PBRT was 34.4 months. There were 76 patients with 1 prior RT course and 16 with 2 or more courses. The median PBRT dose was 60.6 Gy (relative biological effectiveness, [RBE]). Eighty-five percent of patients underwent prior HNC RT for an oropharynx primary, and 39% underwent salvage surgery before re-RT. The cumulative incidence of locoregional failure at 12 months, with death as a competing risk, was 25.1%. The actuarial 12-month freedom-from-distant metastasis and overall survival rates were 84.0% and 65.2%, respectively. Acute toxicities of grade 3 or greater included mucositis (9.9%), dysphagia (9.1%), esophagitis (9.1%), and dermatitis (3.3%). There was 1 death during PBRT due to disease progression. Grade 3 or greater late skin and dysphagia toxicities were noted in 6 patients (8.7%) and 4 patients (7.1%), respectively. Two patients had grade 5 toxicity due to treatment-related bleeding. Conclusions Proton beam re-RT of the head and neck can provide effective tumor control with acceptable acute and late toxicity profiles likely because of the decreased dose to the surrounding normal, albeit previously irradiated, tissue, although longer follow-up is needed to confirm these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)386-395
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiation
  • Cancer Research

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