Risk of ischaemic cerebrovascular events in head and neck cancer patients is associated with carotid artery radiation dose

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Background and purpose: Radiotherapy in the head and neck area may cause vascular damage to the carotid arteries, increasing the risk of anterior circulation ischaemic cerebrovascular events (ICVEs). However, limited data exists on the relationship between radiation dose to the carotid arteries and risk of ICVE. The purpose of this study was therefore to determine the relationship between radiation dose to the carotid arteries and anterior circulation ICVE risk.

Materials and methods: A retrospective analysis of a prospective study cohort of 750 head and neck cancer patients treated with definitive (chemo)radiotherapy was performed. Carotid arteries were delineated, and dose-volume parameters of the treatment plans were calculated. ICVEs were scored prospectively and checked retrospectively by analysing all patient records. Cox proportional hazards analysis was performed to analyse the dose-effect relationships.

Results: The median follow-up period was 3.4 years, 27 patients experienced an ICVE and the 5-year cumulative risk was 4.6%. ICVE risk was significantly associated with dose to the carotid arteries. Multivariable analysis showed that the absolute volume (cm(3)) of the carotid arteries that received at least a radiation dose of 10 Gy was the most important prognostic factor for ICVE (HR = 1.11, AUC = 0.68, p < 0.001).

Conclusion: This is the first large prospective cohort study that demonstrates an independent dose-effect relationship between radiation dose to the carotid arteries and the risk of ICVE. These findings may be used to identify patients at risk for ICVE after radiotherapy who may benefit from primary or secondary preventive measures. (C) 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-187
Number of pages6
JournalRadiotherapy and Oncology
Early online date2-Feb-2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2021


  • Head and neck cancer
  • Radiotherapy
  • Carotid arteries
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack

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