Application of hypoglossal nerve constraint in definitive radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma: A dosimetric feasibility study

Med Dosim. 2021;46(1):39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.meddos.2020.07.002. Epub 2020 Aug 4.


Purpose: Radiation-induced hypoglossal nerve palsy is an infrequent but debilitating late complication after definitive radiotherapy for head and neck cancers. D1cc < 74 Gy (equivalent dose in 2 Gy fractions, EQD2) has been proposed as a potential dose constraint that limits 8-year palsy risk to < 5%. This study sets to perform detailed dosimetric assessments on the applicability of this novel dose constraint in advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC).

Materials and methods: This is a retrospective single-institution dosimetry study. NPC radiotherapy plans were identified from an institutional database, with an aim to select 10 eligible cases. Bilateral hypoglossal nerves were retrospectively contoured following a standard atlas. Cases with either one, or both, hypoglossal nerves D1cc exceeded 74 Gy EQD2 were included. Dosimetry of hypoglossal nerves, planning target volumes (PTV) and normal structures before and after application of the new hypoglossal nerve constraint were compared and analyzed.

Results: Ten NPC cases were replanned. All hypoglossal nerve contours overlapped with high-dose PTV, predominantly at regions of gross nodal diseases. D1cc in 15 out of 20 hypoglossal nerves exceeded 74G y EQD2 at initial plans. All nerves fulfilled the pre-specified constraint of 74Gy EQD2 after re-plan. Median hypoglossal nerve D1cc reduced from 74.8Gy (range, 74.1 to 77.4Gy) to 73.5Gy (range, 72.4 to 74.0Gy) (p < 0.001), corresponded to a projected reduction in 8-year palsy risk from 5%-14% to 3%-5%. PTV V100 was maintained above 95% in all cases. Dose increments in near-maximum (D2) and decrements in near-minimum (D98) were < 1 Gy. Safety dosimetric parameters of standard head and neck organs-at-risk showed no significant changes.

Conclusions: Hypoglossal nerve D1cc < 74 Gy EQD2 is a dosimetrically feasible constraint in definitive radiotherapy for NPC. Tumor target coverage and normal organ dosimetry were not compromised with its usage. Its routine application should be considered in definitive radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.

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

MeSH terms

  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypoglossal Nerve
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / radiotherapy
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated* / adverse effects
  • Retrospective Studies