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From OncoLog, January 2014, Vol. 59, No. 1

Graphic: In Brief

Intensity-Modulated Proton Therapy May Reduce Side Effects of Oropharyngeal Carcinoma Treatment

The need for gastrostomy tubes for patients with oropharyngeal carcinoma decreases as much as 50% when patients are treated with intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT), according to a recent study conducted at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The current standard radiation therapy for oropharyngeal carcinoma, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), can damage surrounding delicate tissues. This damage can impair swallowing and cause patients to require gastrostomy tubes for adequate nutrition.

Conversely, IMPT allows for much more precise targeting of tumor tissues with less radiation delivered to the surrounding tissues. “IMPT is especially well suited for patients with the most complicated tumors of the head and neck, precisely painting the protons onto the tumor layer by layer,” said Steven Frank, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and principal investigator on the study.

Dr. Frank’s group analyzed 25 patients treated with IMPT and 25 patients treated with IMRT and found that only 5 patients treated with IMPT required gastrostomy tubes, whereas 12 patients treated with IMRT required them. Similarly, the researchers found that patients treated with IMPT had a lower incidence of classic radiation therapy side effects, such as vomiting, nausea, and digestive tract inflammation.

The study’s results were presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s 2013 annual meeting. Because of these promising results, Dr. Frank’s group has initiated a phase II/III clinical trial to compare the effectiveness and adverse event rates between IMRT and IMPT in patients with oropharyngeal carcinoma.

“With a recent epidemic of HPV-associated head and neck cancer among U.S. adults, there is a critical need to minimize the side effects associated with conventional IMRT that affect the patients’ courses of treatments—and ultimately the rest of their lives,” Dr. Frank said. “Since radiation therapy is the main tool to treat the disease in this fairly young group of patients, we must understand if more advanced technologies will provide additional value to them.”

For more information, talk to your physician, visit, or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789.

Other articles in OncoLog, January 2014 issue:


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