Dosimetric Modeling of Lymphopenia in Patients With Metastatic Cancer Receiving Palliative Radiation and PD-1 Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

Adv Radiat Oncol. 2021 Dec 24;7(2):100880. doi: 10.1016/j.adro.2021.100880. eCollection 2022 Mar-Apr.


Purpose: Radiation therapy (RT)-associated lymphopenia may adversely affect treatment outcomes, particularly in the era of immunotherapy. We sought to determine dosimetric factors correlated with lymphopenia after palliative RT in a cohort of patients with advanced cancer treated with anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Methods and materials: We included patients with metastatic lung cancer, melanoma, or renal cell carcinoma who were treated with either pembrolizumab or nivolumab and received palliative RT to an extracranial site. Baseline and nadir absolute lymphocyte counts (ALCs) within 6 weeks of RT were recorded. Dosimetric factors were extracted from the corresponding dose-volume histograms and also used to model the dose to circulating lymphocytes via a whole-body blood flow model that simulates the spatiotemporal distribution of blood particles in major organs during RT.

Results: We analyzed 55 patients who underwent 80 total courses of palliative RT; most (94%) were treated with 3-dimensional conformal RT. Doses to the whole body, bone, and large blood vessels (LBVs) were negatively correlated with the ALC nadir, with the strongest correlations seen at V15 (rs, -0.38, -0.43, and -0.37, and P = .0004, .0001, and .0008, respectively). Doses to other organs were not significantly correlated with the ALC nadir. The modeled dose to circulating lymphocytes was also negatively correlated with the ALC nadir and percent ALC change (for D2%, rs, -0.31 and -0.44, and P = .005 and .0001, respectively). Grade ≥3 lymphopenia was associated with LBV V15 (odds ratio [OR], 1.16; 95% CI, 1.07-1.26; P < .001), bone V15 (OR, 1.04; 95% CI, 1.01-1.08; P = .03), body V15 (OR, 1.003; 95% CI, 1.001-1.006; P = .008), and modeled lymphocyte dose (OR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.16-1.82; P < .001).

Conclusions: The RT dose to the whole body, bone, and LBVs and the modeled dose to circulating lymphocytes were correlated with lymphopenia in patients treated with palliative RT and anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitors. These findings may inform future radiation planning in this setting.