Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Safety limits of SBRT dose escalation

In a recent commentary, we saw that the lack of a standard of care for SBRT dose escalation may put patients at risk when dose limits are pushed beyond what is customarily considered effective and safe. Hannan et al. have now published their efficacy findings. Further details of the IRB-approved clinical trial specs are available here.

Between 2006 and 2011, the researchers at several institutions conducted a dose escalation trial utilizing SBRT on 91 men treated for low and intermediate risk prostate cancer. Among those men:
  • ·      64% were intermediate risk, defined as:

o   Either GS 6 and PSA between 10 and 20 ng/ml , or
o   GS 7 with PSA≤ 15 ng/ml and clinical stage ≤ T2b
  • ·      36% were low risk by the NCCN definition.

All patients received 5 treatments or fractions. The first 15 patients were treated with 45 Gy, the next 15 with 47.5 Gy, the next 15 with 50 Gy. Because that last group did not exhibit their predefined “maximally tolerated dose” in the short term, an additional 47 patients also received the 50 Gy dose.

The cancer control was excellent. At 5 years after treatment:
  • ·      98.6% were free from biochemical failure
  • ·      100% were free from metastases
  • ·      None had died of prostate cancer
  • ·      Overall survival was 89.7%

Toxicity was another matter. There were no reports of serious acute urinary toxicity. However, late-term urinary toxicity of grade 3 or greater was reported in 5.5% of patients. For the purposes of their analysis, acute toxicities were those observed within 9 months of treatment, and late-term toxicities were those observed between 9 and 18 months.

Rectal toxicity was reported in detail earlier by Kim et al. and merit a closer look:
  • ·      Among those who received 45 Gy there was no serious (grade 3 or higher) acute or late term toxicity.

o   No acute grade 2 toxicity was observed.
o   Late-term grade 2 toxicity was observed in 1 patient (of 15).
  • ·      Among those who received 47.5 Gy there was no serious (grade 3 or higher) acute or late term toxicity.

o   Acute grade 2 toxicity was observed in 4 of 15 patients (27%)
o   Late-term grade 2 toxicity was observed in 5 of 15 patients (33%).
  • ·      Among the 61 patients who received 50 Gy there was:

o   One case of serious (grade 3) acute toxicity and one case of life-threatening (grade 4) acute toxicity.
o   3 cases (5%) of serious (grade 3) late-term toxicity and 2 cases (3%) of life-threatening (grade 4) late-term toxicity.
o   2 of the patients developed rectourethral fistulae, and 5 required diverting colostomies.

We note that even at the lowest dose level given in this trial (45 Gy), they were delivering much more than the customary SBRT dose of 36.25 Gy. Because this study began with such a high dose, it did not succeed in its objective of finding an optimal dose. It did, however, find the dose that created dose-limiting toxicity. At 50 Gy, they were delivering a dose that is bioequivalent to more than twice the customary and safe IMRT dose (80 Gy in 40 fractions). This is especially troubling when we realize that 36% were low-risk patients who might have delayed treatment with active surveillance.

There are many aspects of this study that are hard to understand. It’s hard to understand why they didn’t start at a more reasonable dose level. Dr. Alan Katz reported excellent cancer control with extremely low toxicity using only 35 Gy (see this link). With the sharp increase in acute grade 2 toxicities at 47.5 Gy, it’s hard to understand why the researchers did not pull the plug before patients were seriously harmed. It’s also hard to understand how the internal review board (IRB) did not question the ethics of this study.

(Update 2/6/2019) In a small (n=26) prospective dose-finding study of 40 Gy (n=9), 45 Gy (n=10) and 50 Gy (n=7) among low and intermediate risk patients, Potters et al. reported freedom from biochemical failure of 92%, 100% and 100% respectively with 67 months of follow-up. There were no Grade 3 toxicities, and toxicity was about equal in all groups. Quality of life returned to baseline in all groups within 2 years.

We have observed (see this link) that there is a lot more to SBRT safety than simply setting the prescribed dose. Careful planning, image guidance and accurate delivery are equally important. In the right hands, SBRT is among the safest and most effective of all radiation therapies, with excellent convenience and relatively low cost. In fact, I chose it for myself.

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