Brain-Specific Relative Biological Effectiveness of Protons Based on Long-term Outcome of Patients With Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2021 Jul 15;110(4):984-992. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2021.02.018. Epub 2021 Feb 16.


Purpose: Uncertainties in relative biological effectiveness (RBE) constitute a major pitfall of the use of protons in clinics. An RBE value of 1.1, which is based on cell culture and animal models, is currently used in clinical proton planning. The purpose of this study was to determine RBE for temporal lobe radiographic changes using long-term follow-up data from patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Methods and materials: Five hundred sixty-six patients with newly diagnosed nasopharyngeal carcinoma received double-scattering proton therapy or intensity modulated radiation therapy at our institutions. The 2 treatment cohorts were well matched. Proton dose distributions were simulated using Monte Carlo and compared with those obtained from the proton clinical treatment planning system. Late treatment effect was defined as development of enhancement of temporal lobe on T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging, with or without accompanying clinical symptoms. The tolerance dose was calculated with receiving operator characteristic analysis and the Youden index. Tolerance curves, expressed as a cumulative dose-volume histogram, were generated using the cutoff points.

Results: With a median follow-up period >5 years for both cohorts, 10% of proton patients and 4% of patients undergoing intensity modulated radiation therapy developed temporal lobe enhancement in unilateral temporal lobe. There was no significant difference in dose distributions between the Monte Carlo method and treatment planning system. The tolerance dose-volume levels were V10 (26.1%), V20 (21.9%), V30 (14.0%), V40 (7.7%), V50 (4.8%), and V60 (3.3%) for proton therapy (P < .03). Comparison of the two tolerance curves revealed that tolerance doses of proton treatments were lower than that of photon treatments at all dose levels. The dose tolerance at D1% was 58.56 Gy for protons and 69.07 Gy for photons. The RBE for temporal lobe enhancement from proton treatments were calculated to be 1.18.

Conclusions: Using long-term clinical outcome of patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, our data suggest that the RBE for temporal lobe enhancement is 1.18 at D1%. A prospective study in a large cohort would be necessary to confirm these findings.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / radiotherapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Proton Therapy*
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated
  • Relative Biological Effectiveness*
  • Treatment Outcome