A novel approach to overcome hypoxic tumor resistance: Cu-ATSM-guided intensity-modulated radiation therapy

K. S.Clifford Chao, Walter R. Bosch, Sasa Mutic, Jason S. Lewis, Farrokh Dehdashti, Mark A. Mintun, James F. Dempsey, Carlos A. Perez, James A. Purdy, Michael J. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

383 Scopus citations


Purpose: Locoregional tumor control for locally advanced cancers with radiation therapy has been unsatisfactory. This is in part associated with the phenomenon of tumor hypoxia. Assessing hypoxia in human tumors has been difficult due to the lack of clinically noninvasive and reproducible methods. A recently developed positron emission tomography (PET) imaging-based hypoxia measurement technique which employs a Cu(II)-diacetyl-bis(N4-methylthiosemicarbazone) (Cu-ATSM) tracer is of great interest. Oxygen electrode measurements in animal experiments have demonstrated a strong correlation between low tumor pO2 and excess 60Cu-ATSM accumulation. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) allows selective targeting of tumor and sparing of normal tissues. In this study, we examined the feasibility of combining these novel technologies to develop hypoxia imaging (Cu-ATSM)-guided IMRT, which may potentially deliver higher dose of radiation to the hypoxic tumor subvolume to overcome inherent hypoxia-induced radioresistance without compromising normal tissue sparing. Methods and Materials: A custom-designed anthropomorphic head phantom containing computed tomography (CT) and positron emitting tomography (PET) visible targets consisting of plastic balls and rods distributed throughout the 'cranium' was fabricated to assess the spatial accuracy of target volume mapping after multimodality image coregistration. For head-and-neck cancer patients, a CT and PET imaging fiducial marker coregistration system was integrated into the thermoplastic immobilization head mask with four CT and PET compatible markers to assist image fusion on a Voxel-Q treatment-planning computer. This system was implemented on head-and-neck cancer patients, and the gross tumor volume (GTV) was delineated based on physical and radiologic findings. Within GTV, regions with a 60Cu-ATSM uptake twice that of contralateral normal neck muscle were operationally designated as ATSM-avid or hypoxic tumor volume (hGTV) for this feasibility study. These target volumes along with other normal organs contours were defined and transferred to an inverse planning computer (Corvus, NOMOS) to create a hypoxia imaging-guided IMRT treatment plan. Results: A study of the accuracy of target volume mapping showed that the spatial fidelity and imaging distortion after CT and PET image coregistration and fusion were within 2 mm in phantom study. Using fiducial markers to assist CT/PET imaging fusion in patients with carcinoma of the head-and-neck area, a heterogeneous distribution of 60Cu-ATSM within the GTV illustrated the success of 60Cu-ATSM PET to select an ATSM-avid or hypoxic tumor subvolume (hGTV). We further demonstrated the feasibility of Cu-ATSM-guided IMRT by showing an example in which radiation dose to the hGTV could be escalated without compromising normal tissue (parotid glands and spinal cord) sparing. The plan delivers 80 Gy in 35 fractions to the ATSM-avid tumor subvolume and the GTV simultaneously receives 70 Gy in 35 fractions while more than one-half of the parotid glands are spared to less than 30 Gy. Conclusion: We demonstrated the feasibility of a novel Cu-ATSM-guided IMRT approach through coregistering hypoxia 60Cu-ATSM PET to the corresponding CT images for IMRT planning. Future investigation is needed to establish a clinical-pathologic correlation between 60Cu-ATSM retention and radiation curability, to understand tumor re-oxygenation kinetics, and tumor target uncertainty during a course of radiation therapy before implementing this therapeutic approach to patients with locally advanced tumor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1171-1182
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cu-ATSM
  • Hypoxia
  • IMRT
  • PET


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