The 'Great Dynamism' of Radiation Oncology

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

August 17, 2022

The field of radiation oncology has rapidly evolved in recent years, thanks in large part to findings from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) that have helped shift therapeutic standards, a review of the literature shows.

The authors assessed all RCTs involving radiotherapy from 2018 to 2021, with the goal of identifying the latest practice-changing data, emerging concepts, and areas that require further study.

Highlights from this research reveal how high-tech radiotherapy, such as hypofractionation and stereotactic body radiotherapy, has improved care for many patients, how personalized radiotherapy using image-based guidance has helped tailor treatments, and how endpoints that focus on quality of life and patient satisfaction are emerging.

For instance, Charles B. Simone, II, MD, FACRO, who was not involved in the current work, pointed to "a proliferation of trials assessing hypofractionation in the curative setting and stereotactic body radiation therapy in the curative and poly- and oligometastatic settings that have allowed for increased patient convenience and dose intensification, respectively."

Simone, chief medical officer, New York Proton Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, also noted that the first personalized radiotherapy trials using imaging and biological markers have "the profound potential to individualize treatment and improve patient outcomes."

The review was published in the European Journal of Cancer.

An Evolving Field

Given the fast-changing landscape for cancer therapeutics and a deluge of research studies, the authors wanted to understand the most notable advances established in recent trials as well as caveats to some approaches and emerging areas to watch.

In the review, Sophie Espenel, MD, from the Department of Radiation Oncology, Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus, Villejuif, France, and colleagues identified 1347 radiotherapy RCTs that were conducted from January 2018 to December 2021. Of these, the authors selected 110 large phase 2 or 3 RCTs that contained data showing practice-changing or emerging concepts.

Overall, the studies showed "great dynamism" in radiation oncology research and covered a wide range of radiotherapy practices, according to Espenel and co-authors.

A central area of research has focused on radioimmunotherapy, an approach that aims to enhance the antitumor immune response. One RCT in the preoperative setting showed, for instance, that concurrent stereotactic body radiotherapy delivered at 8 Gy over three fractions, along with the anti-PD-L1 agent durvalumab, increased major pathologic complete response rates almost eightfold in comparison with durvalumab alone for patients with early-stage lung cancer (53.3% vs 6.7%).

Although promising, not all trials that evaluated a concurrent chemoradiotherapy–immunotherapy strategy showed positive results. One RCT of locally advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, for instance, found that median progression-free survival was not reached when adding the anti-PD-L1 avelumab to chemoradiotherapy. In addition, trials in the metastatic setting have shown conflicting results, the authors note.

Another topic of interest is that of newer radiosensitizers. A trial that evaluated high-risk locoregionally advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma highlighted the efficacy of xevinapant, a pro-apoptotic agent that inhibits apoptosis proteins. Xevinapant was used for the first time in conjunction with a standard high-dose cisplatin chemoradiotherapy. In this study, locoregional control at 18 months was achieved for 54% of patients who received xevinapant, vs 33% of those who received standard care. The toxicity profiles were similar.

The use of high-tech radiotherapy is gaining ground. It allows patients to receive more targeted treatments at lower doses and in shorter time frames. One trial found, for instance, that a more hypofractionated adjuvant whole breast approach, using 26 Gy in five fractions over a week, is as effective and safe as 40 Gy in 15 fractions over 3 weeks. The researchers found that there was no difference in the incidence of locoregional relapses, disease-free survival, and overall survival between the regimens.

Simone also noted that advanced treatment modalities, such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and proton therapy, have the potential to improve patient-reported adverse events and clinical outcomes. "I have seen this both in my clinical practice and in several recent publications," he says.

Personalization of radiotherapy is also an emerging area that may allow for more tailored treatments with improved outcomes. The authors highlighted a study that found that PMSA PET-CT was better than conventional CT for accurately staging prostate cancer. This approach was also less expensive and led to less radiation exposure.

On the basis of this research, "PMSA PET-CT has since become the [standard of care] for prostate cancer staging," the authors explain.

Espenel and colleagues note that as patients survive longer, quality of life and patient satisfaction are increasingly becoming endpoints in RCTs. Experts are focusing more attention on sequelae of treatments and advances in technology that can spare critical organs from radiation and reduce overall treatment time.

Shared decision-making is becoming increasingly possible in many cases as well. For example, with some clinical trials that involved different treatment modalities, outcomes were equivalent, but toxicity profiles differed, allowing patients to choose therapeutic options tailored to their preferences.

Overall, these data demonstrate "a great dynamism of radiation oncology research in most primary tumor types," the researchers write.

The study received no outside financial support. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. disclosures. Simone is chair of the American Society for Radiation Oncology Lung Resource Panel and the American Society for Radiation Oncology Veteran Affairs Radiation Oncology Quality Surveillance Blue Ribbon Lung Panel and has received honorarium from Varian Medical Systems.

Eur J Cancer. Published online June 29, 2022. Full text

Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse and an award-winning medical writer who has written for many major news outlets and is a regular contributor to Medscape.

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