Protons versus Photons for Unresectable Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Liver Decompensation and Overall Survival

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2019 Sep 1;105(1):64-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2019.01.076. Epub 2019 Jan 23.


Purpose: Ablative radiation therapy is increasingly being used for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) resulting in excellent local control rates; however, patients without evidence of disease progression often die from liver failure. The clinical benefit of proton- over photon-based radiation therapy is unclear. We therefore sought to compare clinical outcomes of proton versus photon ablative radiation therapy in patients with unresectable HCC.

Methods and materials: This is a single-institution retrospective study of patients treated during 2008 to 2017 with nonmetastatic, unresectable HCC not previously treated with liver-directed radiation therapy and who did not receive further liver-directed radiation therapy within 12 months after completion of index treatment. The primary outcome, overall survival (OS), was assessed using Cox regression. Secondary endpoints included incidence of non-classic radiation-induced liver disease (defined as increase in baseline Child-Pugh score by ≥2 points at 3 months posttreatment), assessed using logistic regression, and locoregional recurrence, assessed using Fine-Gray regression for competing risks. All outcomes were measured from radiation start date.

Results: The median follow-up was 14 months. Of 133 patients with median age 68 years and 75% male, 49 (37%) were treated with proton radiation therapy. Proton radiation therapy was associated with improved OS (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.47; P = .008; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.27-0.82). The median OS for proton and photon patients was 31 and 14 months, respectively, and the 24-month OS for proton and photon patients was 59.1% and 28.6%, respectively. Proton radiation therapy was also associated with a decreased risk of non-classic radiation-induced liver disease (odds ratio, 0.26; P = .03; 95% CI, 0.08-0.86). Development of nonclassic RILD at 3 months was associated with worse OS (adjusted hazard ratio, 3.83; P < .001; 95% CI, 2.12-6.92). There was no difference in locoregional recurrence, including local failure, between protons and photons.

Conclusions: Proton radiation therapy was associated with improved survival, which may be driven by decreased incidence of posttreatment liver decompensation. Our findings support prospective investigations comparing proton versus photon ablative radiation therapy for HCC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / radiotherapy*
  • Cause of Death
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Failure / epidemiology*
  • Liver Failure / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Photons / adverse effects
  • Photons / therapeutic use*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Proton Therapy / adverse effects
  • Proton Therapy / methods*
  • Proton Therapy / mortality
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome