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Whole brain radiotherapy with partial hair-sparing technique-a feasibility study

International Journal of Radiology & Radiation Therapy
Narelle Williams,1 Frances Boyle,2,3,4 Angela Hong,2,4,5 Hsien Chan,1,4 Elizabeth Paton,1,2 Kerryn Miller,5 Zoe Moutrie,5 Sinead Mulrennan,5 Bianca Karle,5 Gerald Fogarty1,2,4,5

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Introduction: Whole brain radiotherapy (WBRT) is a common palliative treatment for brain metastases from solid tumours. Traditionally, it is given with opposed lateral fields causing total alopecia as hair-bearing scalp skin receives the full dose. Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT) can deliver WBRT with a simultaneous integrated boost (SIB) to larger metastases whilst minimising dose to critical structures such as the hippocampus. This feasibility study aimed to test the hypothesis that a reduced dose to the scalp using a VMAT hair-sparing WBRT protocol would spare scalp hair and reduce alopecia at four weeks post treatment without compromising disease control at three months.

Methods: The Hair Spare study (01.07 WBRTMel sub-study SS01.13) was an investigator- initiated, prospective feasibility study. A VMAT hair-sparing WBRT protocol was developed to limit the dose to the scalp to 16 Gray (Gy) in 15 fractions. The primary objective was the rate of alopecia at 4 weeks post RT as measured by CTCAE v4 and clinician and patient perception. Quality of life (QoL) was assessed at baseline, one month and three months post treatment with validated instruments including European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) QoL Questionnaire (QLQ-C15-PAL+4) plus four additional questions specifically relating to hair, a visual analogue scale (VAS) to measure the perception of hair loss severity, and the total Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia Distress Scale (CADS).

Results: Nine patients with brain metastases from melanoma (6), breast (2) and lung (1) cancer were enrolled at the Mater Sydney Hospital, Crows Nest, Australia. At 4 weeks, 5 patients were evaluable: 4 reported moderate alopecia (CTCAE v4 Grade 2) and 1 reported mild alopecia (CTCAE v4 Grade 1). All 5 wore wigs or scarves to hide hair loss. Data on QoL was not sufficiently collected to be reportable. Any amount of hair loss impacted QoL. Reduced hair loss compared to complete alopecia, as usually found with conventional WBRT, did not translate to a mean improvement in QoL. There was no symptomatic intracranial progression of disease while the patients remained on study. Two patients had MRI at 3 months, and both had evidence of intracranial progression of disease within the volume that had received prescription WBRT dose. From the data collected it seems that VMAT hair-sparing WBRT was well-tolerated.

Conclusion: VMAT hair-sparing WBRT partially spared scalp hair at four weeks post WBRT and did not compromise symptomatic disease control during the study. The treating oncologists observed that the hair grew back quicker than with conventional WBRT, and that combined cytotoxic chemotherapy was additive to RT-induced alopecia. However, the study was not optimal in that data collection was hampered by patient availability. The patient population was too unwell to be followed up according to the protocol.


radiotherapy, clinical trial, hippocampus, hair, quality of life, melanoma, brain, volumetric modulated arc therapy