Normal tissue complication probability models in plan evaluation of children with brain tumors referred to proton therapy

Background: Children with brain tumors undergoing radiotherapy are at particular risk of radiation-induced morbidity and are therefore routinely considered for proton therapy (PT) to reduce the dose to healthy tissues. The aim of this study was to apply pediatric constraints and normal tissue complication probability (NTCP) models when evaluating the differences between PT and contemporary photon-based radiotherapy, volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT).

Methods: Forty patients (aged 1–17 years) referred from Norwegian institutions to cranial PT abroad during 2014–2016 were selected for VMAT re-planning using the original CT sets and target volumes. The VMAT and delivered PT plans were compared by dose/volume metrics and NTCP models related to growth hormone deficiency, auditory toxicity, visual impairment, xerostomia, neurocognitive outcome and secondary brain and parotid gland cancers.

Results: The supratentorial brain, temporal lobes, hippocampi, hypothalamus, pituitary glands, cochleas, salivary glands, optic nerves and chiasm received lower mean doses from PT. Reductions in population median NTCP were significant for auditory toxicity (VMAT: 3.8%; PT: 0.3%), neurocognitive outcome (VMAT: 3.0 IQ points decline at 5 years post RT; PT: 2.5 IQ points), xerostomia (VMAT: 2.0%; PT: 0.6%), excess absolute risk of secondary cancer of the brain (VMAT: 9.2%; PT: 6.7%) and salivary glands (VMAT: 2.8%; PT:0.5%). Across all patients, 23/38 PT plans had better or comparable estimated risks for all endpoints (within ±10% of the risk relative to VMAT), whereas for 1/38 patients all estimates were better or comparable with VMAT.

Conclusions: PT reduced the volumes of normal tissues exposed to radiation, particularly low-to-intermediate dose levels, and this was reflected in lower NTCP. Of the included endpoints, substantial reductions in population medians were seen from the delivered PT plans for auditory complications, xerostomia, and risk of secondary cancers of the brain and salivary glands.