Purpose: To analyze the long-term patterns of regional failure following intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) for nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC).
Methods: From January 2005 to December 2010, 275 non-metastatic NPC patients treated with IMRT were retrospectively enrolled. Patients staged as II (lymph nodes measuring 4 or more cm in diameter), III or IV also received chemotherapy. Failures were assessed as in-field or out-field relative to the pretreatment planning computed tomography data sets. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed with Cox proportional hazards model to analyze the effect of various prognostic factors on regional failure-free survival (RFFS) and overall survival (OS).
Results: During a median follow-up of 71 months, the RFFS and OS rates were 94.3% and 83.9%, respectively. Seventeen patients developed regional failures, of which 16 were in-field; one patient showed an out-field failure in the parotid gland, and no recurrences were seen for level Ib. Failures in level II and in the retropharyngeal area accounted for 70.6% (12/17) and 52.9% (9/17) of all failures, respectively. The 5-year RFFS rates for patients with classifications of N0-1 and N2-3 were 98.5% and 90.2%, respectively (p = 0.001). Multivariate analysis showed that N stage was the only independent prognostic predictor of RFFS (HR 7.363, 95% CI 1.516-35.756, p = 0.013).
Conclusions: The regional failure of NPC after treatment with IMRT is uncommon but is significantly higher in N2-3 patients than in N0-1 patients. In-field failures represent the main pattern of regional recurrence and are most often detected in level II and in the retropharyngeal area, while out-field failure is rare. Close attention should be directed to NPC patients with advanced N stages.