Randomized Phase IIB Trial of Proton Beam Therapy Versus Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy for Locally Advanced Esophageal Cancer

J Clin Oncol. 2020 May 10;38(14):1569-1579. doi: 10.1200/JCO.19.02503. Epub 2020 Mar 11.


Purpose: Whether dosimetric advantages of proton beam therapy (PBT) translate to improved clinical outcomes compared with intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) remains unclear. This randomized trial compared total toxicity burden (TTB) and progression-free survival (PFS) between these modalities for esophageal cancer.

Methods: This phase IIB trial randomly assigned patients to PBT or IMRT (50.4 Gy), stratified for histology, resectability, induction chemotherapy, and stage. The prespecified coprimary end points were TTB and PFS. TTB, a composite score of 11 distinct adverse events (AEs), including common toxicities as well as postoperative complications (POCs) in operated patients, quantified the extent of AE severity experienced over the duration of 1 year following treatment. The trial was conducted using Bayesian group sequential design with three planned interim analyses at 33%, 50%, and 67% of expected accrual (adjusted for follow-up).

Results: This trial (commenced April 2012) was approved for closure and analysis upon activation of NRG-GI006 in March 2019, which occurred immediately prior to the planned 67% interim analysis. Altogether, 145 patients were randomly assigned (72 IMRT, 73 PBT), and 107 patients (61 IMRT, 46 PBT) were evaluable. Median follow-up was 44.1 months. Fifty-one patients (30 IMRT, 21 PBT) underwent esophagectomy; 80% of PBT was passive scattering. The posterior mean TTB was 2.3 times higher for IMRT (39.9; 95% highest posterior density interval, 26.2-54.9) than PBT (17.4; 10.5-25.0). The mean POC score was 7.6 times higher for IMRT (19.1; 7.3-32.3) versus PBT (2.5; 0.3-5.2). The posterior probability that mean TTB was lower for PBT compared with IMRT was 0.9989, which exceeded the trial's stopping boundary of 0.9942 at the 67% interim analysis. The 3-year PFS rate (50.8% v 51.2%) and 3-year overall survival rates (44.5% v 44.5%) were similar.

Conclusion: For locally advanced esophageal cancer, PBT reduced the risk and severity of AEs compared with IMRT while maintaining similar PFS.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01512589.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proton Therapy / methods*
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / methods*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01512589