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Cancer Invest. 2013 Feb;31(2):140-4. doi: 10.3109/07357907.2012.762780.

The etiology of treatment-related lymphopenia in patients with malignant gliomas: modeling radiation dose to circulating lymphocytes explains clinical observations and suggests methods of modifying the impact of radiation on immune cells.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA



Severe treatment-related lymphopenia (TRL) occurs in 40% of patients with high grade gliomas (HGG) receiving glucocorticoids, temozolomide, and radiation. This occurs following radiation, persists for months, and is associated with reduced survival. As all three treatment modalities are lymphotoxic, this study was conducted to estimate the radiation dose that lymphocytes receive passing through the radiation field and if this could explain the observed TRL.


A typical glioblastoma plan (8-cm tumor, 60 Gy/30 fractions) was constructed using the Pinnacle™ radiation planning system. Radiation doses to circulating cells (DCC) were analyzed using MatLab™. The primary endpoints were mean DCC and percent of circulating cells receiving ≥0.5 Gy. The model was also used to study how changes in target volumes (PTV), dose rates, and delivery techniques affect DCC.


The modeling determined that while a single radiation fraction delivered 0.5 Gy to 5% of circulating cells, after 30 fractions 99% of circulating blood had received ≥0.5 Gy. The mean DCC was 2.2 Gy and was similar for IMRT, 3D-conformal techniques, and different dose rates. Major changes in PTV size affected mean DCC and percent of circulating cells receiving ≥0.5 Gy.


Standard treatment plans for brain tumors deliver potentially lymphotoxic radiation doses to the entire circulating blood pool. Altering dose rates or delivery techniques are unlikely to significantly affect DCC by the end of treatment. Novel approaches are needed to limit radiation to circulating lymphocytes given the association of lymphopenia with poorer survival in patients with HGG.

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