Salvage SBRT after radical prostatectomy


The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has announced a new clinical trial using stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for treatment of recurrent prostate cancer after failure of initial prostatectomy. This is the third such trial in the Los Angeles area, adding to the ones at the University of Southern California (USC) and City of Hope (which is no longer recruiting). The advantages to the patient are completing salvage radiation in just five treatments, and at a lower cost. But there are many issues that the lead investigators, Amar Kishan and Chris King, explored in a very detailed document that they kindly allowed me to see. The hope is that the increased biologically effective dose possible with extreme fractionation will increase cure rates without adding undue toxicity.

Eligibility

Patients are eligible if they had adverse pathological findings (i.e., Stage T3/4, positive margins, a Gleason score of 8 to 10, tertiary pattern 5), or PSA rising over 0.03 ng/ml. They are excluding anyone who exhibits distant metastases on a bone scan (M1) or positive pelvic lymph nodes discovered by dissection (pN1). They are allowing patients with non-surgical evidence of pelvic lymph node invasion (i.e., suspected because of a CT or a PET/CT).

Radiation dose / adjuvant androgen deprivation therapy (ADT)

The treatment plan is as follows:

  • All patients will receive 34 Gy in 5 fractions to the prostate bed.
  • There may be a simultaneous boost dose of 40 Gy to any detected tumors in the prostate bed.
  • Optionally, they will also receive 25 Gy in 5 fractions to the pelvic lymph nodes.
  • Optionally, they will also receive 6 months of ADT beginning 2 months before radiation begins.

While whole pelvic radiation and adjuvant ADT improve salvage radiation outcomes on the whole (see this link), they may not be necessary in all cases. A recent analysis suggested that adjuvant ADT only benefits those with post-prostatectomy PSA ≥ 0.4 ng/ml, Gleason score 8 to 10, stage T3b/4, and those with high Decipher scores (> 1 in 3 probability of distant metastases in 10 years).

The prostate bed dose is biologically equivalent to 85 Gy using conventional fractionation (about 1.8 Gy per fraction). It is much higher than the typical salvage radiation dose of 67 to 72 Gy in 37 to 40 fractions. It also exceeds by about 9 percent the dose used in a trial of moderate hypofractionation (discussed here). At the last ASTRO meeting, Dr. King presented the rationale for increasing the salvage radiation dose (see this link).  At the time, he proposed a randomized clinical trial using a dose of 76 Gy with conventional fractionation. The new protocol far exceeds that dose on the basis of biologically effectiveness, but they will compare outcomes to historical controls. The goal is to achieve a 5-year biochemical recurrence-free survival rate of 72 percent, compared to the historical level of 56 percent.

Toxicity

Salvage SBRT isn’t just another form of salvage IMRT; IMRT is more forgiving. With IMRT, if there is a small misalignment, it is not a big deal — the dose per fraction is small enough that a target miss caused by organ motion will not materially affect outcomes and will average out over time.

  • Only devices that continuously track prostate bed motion during, and not just at the start of, each treatment, and that operate with extremely fast treatment times, may be able to avoid all of the geographic misses. Image guidance is complicated when there is nothing for fiducials to grab onto.  This becomes an important consideration only at higher dose rates.
  • Although the biologically effective dose (BED) for oncological control is higher with the SBRT protocol, the BED to healthy tissues (which causes toxicity) is lower.
  • For the tissues that may cause acute toxicity, the BED is a third lower compared to a 72 Gy conventionally-fractionated treatment. In a recent trial of 70 Gy salvage radiation, acute grade 2 and 3 urinary toxicity was 18 percent; acute grade 2 and 3 rectal toxicity was 18 percent as well.
  • For the tissues that may cause late-term toxicity, the BED is about the same. Serious late-term toxicity was a rare event when 76 Gy was used for salvage in one study, but late term grade 2 toxicity was about 20 percent for urinary toxicity and 8 percent for rectal toxicity. It is unknown whether the late-responding tissues of the bowels and urinary tract will suffer increased damage from the higher dose rates after longer follow-up.

SBRT as a primary treatment is different from SBRT as a salvage treatment.  There are also several considerations that arise more in the salvage radiation therapy setting than in the primary therapy setting:

  • The bladder and rectum are no longer shielded by an intact prostate, so they are potentially exposed to greater spillover radiation. The prostate bed without the prostate is highly deformable, and rectal distension can change its shape markedly within seconds during the treatment. This increases the amount of toxic radiation absorbed by healthy tissues.
  • The scar tissue of the anastomosis may become inflamed, leading to a higher risk of urinary retention or tissue destruction.
  • The bladder neck, which may be spared during primary radiation and surgery, receives a full dose during salvage radiation therapy, increasing the probability of bladder neck contracture, urethral strictures, pain, and incontinence.
  • These problems may be amplified at higher doses per treatment.
  • Erectile function is probably already impaired from the surgery. Neurovascular bundles, if spared by surgery, are far more exposed during salvage radiation.

We have had a couple of cautionary cases where SBRT toxicity has been extraordinarily high. In one, it was because the delivered radiation dose was too high. In the other, there may have been multiple causes.

There has also been a study where conventionally fractionated salvage IMRT with a dose as high as 80 Gy has been used with low toxicity. A recent study using moderate hypofractionation for salvage (51 Gy / 17 fx) also boasted low toxicity levels among treated patients.

The research team will monitor both physician-reported toxicity and patient-reported toxicity (urinary, rectal, and sexual). If the rate of grade 3 (serious) toxicity is higher than 20 percent, accrual will be halted and the study subjected to careful review. If the rate is higher than 30 percent, the study will be terminated.

Dose constraints

The investigators have put together a set of very tight dose constraints for organs at risk. Organs at risk include the bladder, the front and back of the rectum, the small intestines, the penile bulb, and the femoral head. They also included “point dose constraints”: the maximum radiation exposure to even a millimeter of the organ at risk. Because of individual anatomy, it may not always be possible to simultaneously meet all dose constraints. In those cases, the physician will decide if the deviation is material, and if it is, he may lower the dose as low as 30 Gy.

Image guidance

The prostate bed consists largely of loose and highly deformable tissue. Although some radiation oncologists (e.g., at the University of California, San Francisco or UCSF) use fiducials or transponders for salvage image guidance, most find that they do not stay in place. This has not been a big issue for salvage IMRT because a few “misses” will not contribute materially to toxicity, but it may be a larger issue for salvage SBRT. One way around this is to have the doctor monitor the position of the soft tissue throughout each treatment, and manually realign the beams whenever the position of the tissues deviates from the planning image. The problem is that manual realignment is time consuming. The patient is lying on the bench with a full bladder, which may be difficult to hold in. Also, the more time that passes during a treatment, the more opportunity for bowel motion to occur. The lack of intra-fractional image guidance remains a concern in this clinical trial that the investigators are well aware of.

A related issue occurs when the pelvic lymph nodes are simultaneously treated. The lymph nodes may move independently of the prostate bed, so it may be impossible to hit both areas simultaneously with pinpoint accuracy. The investigators are using the pelvic bones as landmarks.

Most importantly, all patients must have a full bladder to lift it up and help anchor organs in place. in addition, enemas are required before each treatment, and if the bowels are at all distended, treatment will be discontinued.

Risks

As with any clinical trial, patients take a risk in trying a new treatment. There is also a learning curve that doctors go through in trying out a new therapy.  I, myself, chose to participate in a clinical trial of primary SBRT when there were only 3 years of reported data. I judged the potential benefits worth the risk for me. It was also important to me that the treating radiation oncologist (Dr. King) had been using SBRT for prostate cancer longer than anyone else. Every patient should be well aware of the risks before agreeing to participate in a clinical trial. Patients who are looking for a shorter duration treatment with less toxicity risk may wish to be treated at the University of Wisconsin or in a clinical trial at the University of Virginia (discussed here).

Editorial note: This commentary was written by Allen Edel for The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink.

3 Responses

  1. Allen:

    Am I correct in my assumption that this study is not yet accruing patients? I note that it does not seem to be listed on the ClinicalTrials.gov web site (as yet).

  2. It is currently recruiting and is IRB-approved. They were slow in getting it listed in clinicaltrials.gov

  3. I am always interested in the results of trials and have always seen short-term SBRT as a reasonable alternative to long term IMRT when the radiation is overseen by an expert/experienced radiation oncologist who has formed an excellent/experienced team.

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