Objectives of the study: Pilot study to assess high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy as sole treatment for limited endobronchial non-small cell lung carcinomas.
Inclusion criteria: Proximal non-small cell lung cancer in a not previously irradiated area, with a maximal diameter of 1 cm, no visible tumor on CT scan, lack of other treatment options in patients with severe, chronic respiratory failure, surgery, or external radiotherapy for a previous lung cancer.
Treatment protocol: Treatment was based on an escalating dose protocol. Patients received three to five fractions of 7 Gy prescribed at 10 mm from the center of the applicator, once a week.
Results: Nineteen patients were included in this trial. The first two patients received three fractions of 7 Gy, the four next patients received four fractions, and the 13 remaining patients were treated with five fractions of 7 Gy. Two months after the end of the procedure, tumors in 15 of 18 evaluable patients (83%) were locally controlled with negative results of biopsies. At 1 year, local control was still obtained in 12 of 16 evaluable patients (75%). With a mean follow-up of 28 months, 1-year and 2-year actuarial survival rates were 78% and 58%, respectively, with a 28-month median survival. One patient with local control died from hemoptysis 12 months after treatment. Two patients suffered from severe necrosis of the bronchial wall; one of them died from hemoptysis.
Conclusion: HDR brachytherapy is an effective treatment for small endobronchial tumors. Late toxicity on the bronchial wall is still too high and was attributed mainly to contact between the catheter and the bronchial mucosa. Exclusive HDR brachytherapy should be restricted to carefully selected patients for whom there is no alternative curative treatment. New bronchial applicators and a lower dose per fraction may reduce the incidence and attenuate the severity of late complications.