Intensity-modulated radiation therapy in head and neck cancers: The Mallinckrodt Experience

K. S.Clifford Chao, Daniel A. Low, Carlos A. Perez, James A. Purdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


The purpose of the study was to investigate the feasibility and the optimization of tomotherapy-based intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) in patients with head and neck cancer. From February 1997 to November 1997, 17 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck were treated with IMRT. Patients were immobilized with a noninvasive mask and treated using a serial tomotherapy device on a 6 MV linear accelerator. Treatment planning was performed on a Peacock inverse planning system and prescription optimization was used to achieve the best plan for target coverage and parotid sparing. The treatment planning system process has a dosimetric characteristic of delivering different doses to different target structures simultaneously in each daily treatment; therefore, the biological equivalent dose was implemented using the linear-quadratic model to adjust the total dose to the target volume receiving a daily dose of less than 1.9 Gy. All eight patients with gross disease (six in the nasopharynx, two in the tonsil) and one patient with recurrent nasopharyngeal carcinoma received concurrent cisplatin chemotherapy. Six postoperative patients were treated with irradiation alone. Median follow-up was 2.2 years (range 2.6-1.8 years). All patients completed the prescribed treatment without unexpected interruption. Acute side effects were comparable to those of patients treated with conventional beam arrangements during the same period. No patient required gastrostomy during irradiation. The preliminary experience showed that the noninvasive immobilization mask yielded high positioning reproducibility for our patients. To spare the parotid gland, which is in the proximity of the target, a fraction of the target volume may not receive the prescribed dose. In the best-achievable plan of our studied cohort, only 27%, 8% of parotid gland volumes were treated to more than 30 Gy, while an average of 3.3% ± 0.6% of the target volume received less than 95% of the prescribed dose. This is mainly related to the steep dose gradient in the region where the target abuts the parotid gland. The inverse planning system allowed us the freedom of weighting normal tissue-sparing and target coverage to select the best-achievable plan. Local control was achieved in eight patients with gross tumor; six were treated postoperatively. Of three reirradiated patients, two had symptomatic improvement but persistent disease, and one is without evidence of disease. In summary, a system for patient immobilization, setup verification, and dose optimization for head and neck cancer with parotid sparing without significantly compromising target coverage is being implemented for a tomotherapy-based IMRT plan at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. The initial clinical experience in tumor control is promising, and no severe adverse acute side effects have been observed. Further refining of delivery technology and the inverse planning system, gaining clinical experience to address target definition and dose inhomogeneity within the targets, and understanding the partial volume effect on normal tissue tolerance are needed for IMRT to excel in the treatment of head and neck cancer. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-103
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Head and neck cancers
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy


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