Radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy after definitive radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma: Clinical predictors and dose-toxicity relationship

Radiother Oncol. 2019 Sep;138:93-98. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2019.06.011. Epub 2019 Jun 25.


Background and purpose: Radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy is a debilitating and irreversible late complication after definitive radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) and other skull base tumors. This study sets to evaluate its incidence and clinical predictive factors, and to propose relevant dosimetric constraints for this structure to guide radiotherapy planning.

Materials and methods: We undertook a retrospective review of 797 NPC patients who underwent definitive intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) between 2003 and 2011. Cumulative incidence and clinical predictors for radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy were evaluated. Archived radiotherapy plans were retrieved and 330 independent hypoglossal nerves were retrospectively contoured following standardized atlas. Optimal threshold analyses of dosimetric parameters (Dmax, D0.5cc, D1cc, D2cc, Dmean) were conducted using receiver operating characteristic curves. Normal tissue complication probability was generated with logistic regression modeling.

Results: With a median follow-up of 8.1 years, sixty-nine (8.7%) patients developed radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy. High radiotherapy dose, premorbid diabetes, advanced T-stage and radiological hypoglossal canal involvement were independent clinical risk factors. Maximum dose received by 1 cc volume (D1cc) was the best predictor for the development of radiation-induced nerve palsy (AUC = 0.826) at 8 years after IMRT. Hypoglossal nerves with D1cc of 74 Gy EQD2 had an estimated palsy risk of 4.7%. Nerves with D1cc <74 Gy EQD2 had significantly lower risk of palsy than those ≥74 Gy EQD2 (2.4% vs 20.8%, p <0.001).

Conclusion: Incidence of radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy was high after definitive IMRT for NPC. D1cc <74 Gy EQD2 can serve as a useful dose constraint to adopt during radiotherapy planning to limit palsy risk to <5% at 8 years after IMRT.

Keywords: Hypoglossal nerve; Intensity-modulated radiotherapy; Nasopharyngeal carcinoma; Radiation dosimetry.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglossal Nerve Diseases / epidemiology
  • Hypoglossal Nerve Diseases / etiology*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / radiotherapy*
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Radiation Injuries / epidemiology
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / adverse effects
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies