Purpose: To stratify patients and aid clinical decision making, we developed machine learning models to predict treatment failure and radiation-induced toxicities after radiotherapy (RT) in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma across institutions.
Materials and methods: The models were developed using linear and nonlinear algorithms, predicting survival, nonlocal failure, radiation-induced liver disease, and lymphopenia from baseline patient and treatment parameters. The models were trained on 207 patients from Massachusetts General Hospital. Performance was quantified using Harrell's c-index, area under the curve (AUC), and accuracy in high-risk populations. Models' structures were optimized in a nested cross-validation approach to prevent overfitting. A study analysis plan was registered before external validation using 143 patients from MD Anderson Cancer Center. Clinical utility was assessed using net-benefit analysis.
Results: The survival model stratified high-risk versus low-risk patients well in the external validation cohort (c-index = 0.75), better than existing risk scores. Predictions of 1-year survival and nonlocal failure were excellent (external AUC = 0.74 and 0.80, respectively), especially in the high-risk group (accuracy > 90%). Cause-of-death analysis showed differential modes of treatment failure in these cohorts and indicated that these models could be used to stratify RT patients for liver-sparing treatment regimen or combination approaches with systemic agents. Predictions of liver disease and lymphopenia were good but less robust (external AUC = 0.68 and 0.7, respectively), suggesting the need for more comprehensive consideration of dosimetry and better predictive biomarkers. The liver disease model showed excellent accuracy in the high-risk group (92%) and revealed possible interactions of platelet count with initial liver function.
Conclusion: Machine learning approaches can provide reliable outcome predictions in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma after RT in diverse cohorts across institutions. The excellent performance, particularly in high-risk patients, suggests novel strategies for patient stratification and treatment selection.