Optimizing radiation dose and fractionation for the definitive treatment of locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer
Radiation therapy is the foundation for treatment of locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a disease that is often inoperable and has limited long term survival. Local control of disease is strongly linked to patient survival and continues to be problematic despite continued attempts at changing the dose and fractionation of radiation delivered. Technological advancements such as 4-dimensional computed tomography (CT) based planning, positron emission tomography (PET) based target delineation, and daily image guidance have allowed for ever more accurate and conformal treatments. A limit to dose escalation with conventional fractions of 2 Gy once per day appears to have been reached at 60 Gy in the randomized trial Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) 0617. Higher doses were surprisingly associated with worse overall survival. Approaches other than conventional dose escalation have been explored to better control disease including accelerating treatment to limit tumor repopulation both with hyperfractionation and its multiple small (<2 Gy) fractions each day and with hypofractionation and its single larger (>2 Gy) fraction each day. These accelerated regimens are increasingly being used with concurrent chemotherapy, and multiple institutions have reported it as tolerable. Tailoring treatment to individual patient disease and normal anatomic characteristics has been explored with isotoxic dose escalation up to the tolerance of organs at risk, with both hyperfractionation and hypofractionation. Metabolic imaging during and after treatment is increasingly being used to boost doses to residual disease. Boost doses have included moderate hypofractionation of 2–4 Gy, and more recently extreme hypofractionation with stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). In spite of all these changes in dose and fractionation, lung and cardiovascular toxicity remain obstacles that limit disease control and patient survival.