Purpose: To analyze the patterns of local-regional recurrence in patients with head and neck cancer treated with parotid-sparing conformal and segmental intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).
Methods and materials: Fifty-eight patients with head and neck cancer were treated with bilateral neck radiation (RT) using conformal or segmental IMRT techniques, while sparing a substantial portion of one parotid gland. The targets for CT-based RT planning included the gross tumor volume (GTV) (primary tumor and lymph node metastases) and the clinical target volume (CTV) (postoperative tumor bed, expansions of the GTVs and lymph node groups at risk of subclinical disease). Lymph node targets at risk of subclinical disease included the bilateral jugulodigastric and lower jugular lymph nodes, bilateral retropharyngeal lymph nodes at risk, and high jugular nodes at the base of skull in the side of the neck at highest risk (containing clinical neck metastases and/or ipsilateral to the primary tumor). The CTVs were expanded by 5 mm to yield planning target volumes (PTVs). Planning goals included coverage of all PTVs (with a minimum of 95% of the prescribed dose) and sparing of a substantial portion of the parotid gland in the side of the neck at less risk. The median RT doses to the gross tumor, the operative bed, and the subclinical disease PTVs were 70.4 Gy, 61.2 Gy, and 50.4 Gy respectively. All recurrences were defined on CT scans obtained at the time of recurrence, transferred to the pretreatment CT dataset used for RT planning, and analyzed using dose-volume histograms. The recurrences were classified as 1) "in-field," in which 95% or more of the recurrence volume (V(recur)) was within the 95% isodose; 2) "marginal," in which 20% to 95% of V(recur) was within the 95% isodose; or 3) "outside," in which less than 20% of V(recur) was within the 95% isodose.
Results: With a median follow-up of 27 months (range 6 to 60 months), 10 regional recurrences, 5 local recurrences (including one noninvasive recurrence) and 1 stomal recurrence were seen in 12 patients, for a 2-year actuarial local-regional control rate of 79% (95% confidence interval 68-90%). Ten patients (80%) relapsed in-field (in areas of previous gross tumor in nine patients), and two patients developed marginal recurrences in the side of the neck at highest risk (one in the high retropharyngeal nodes/base of skull and one in the submandibular nodes). Four regional recurrences extended superior to the jugulodigastric node, in the high jugular and retropharyngeal nodes near the base of skull of the side of the neck at highest risk. Three of these were in-field, in areas that had received the dose intended for subclinical disease. No recurrences were seen in the nodes superior to the jugulodigastric nodes in the side of the neck at less risk, where RT was partially spared.
Conclusions: The majority of local-regional recurrences after conformal and segmental IMRT were "in-field," in areas judged to be at high risk at the time of RT planning, including the GTV, the operative bed, and the first echelon nodes. These findings motivate studies of dose escalation to the highest risk regions.