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Radiother Oncol. 1992 Dec;25(4):251-60.

Clinical implications of heterogeneity of tumor response to radiation therapy.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114.


Heterogeneity of response of tumor tissue to radiation clearly exists. Major parameters include histopathologic type, size (number of tumor rescue units (TRUs)), hemoglobin concentration, cell proliferation kinetics and immune rejection reaction by host. Further, normal and presumably tumor tissue response is altered in certain genetic diseases, e.g. ataxia telangiectasia. Any assessment of response of tumor tissue to a new treatment method or the testing of a new clinical response predictor is optimally based upon a narrow strata, viz., uniform with respect to known parameters of response, e.g. size, histological type. Even among tumors of such a clinically defined narrow strata, there will be residual heterogeneity with respect to inherent cellular radiation sensitivity, distributions of pO2, (SH), cell proliferation etc. The value of a response predictor of an individual tumor will be determined by the heterogeneity of values for these and or other characteristics and by the coefficient of variation (CV) of the measured values of the individual parameters. Heterogeneity of one or more parameters of response is reflected in the slope of the dose response curve for local control, viz. the greater the heterogeneity the less steep the slope. To examine for this effect, the slope of dose response curves for control of model tumors of 10(8) tumor rescue units (TRU) and the SF2 = 0.5 (survival fraction after a single dose of 2 Gy) has been used to assess the impact of inter- and intra-tumoral variation of SF2 on slope, defined as gamma 50 values. The gamma 50 is the increase in local control expressed in percent points for a one percentage increment in dose, at the mid-point on the dose-response curve. The gamma 50 was 6.5 for CV = 0.0. For inter-tumoral CVs of 10%, 20% and 40%, the gamma 50 rapidly decreased to 2.4, 1.3 and 0.7. Intra-tumoral variation was less important, viz., for CVs of 10%, 20%, and 40% the gamma 50 values were reduced to 5.3, 3.8 and 2.2. Combining inter- and intra-tumoral variation reduced the gamma 50 only slightly below that for inter-tumoral variation alone. For example, were the CV 10% for inter- and intra-tumoral variation, the gamma 50 would be 2.1 as compared to 2.4 for inter-tumoral variation alone. The number of TRUs also affects slope, viz. gamma 50 increased from 1 to 9.7 as the TRU number increased from 10(1) to 10(12).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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