Does Neutron Radiation Therapy Potentiate an Immune Response to Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

September 21, 2018


International Journal of Particle Therapy

Publication Date

September 21, 2018


Schaub S, Stewart R, Sandison G, Arbuckle T, Liao J, Laramore G, Zeng J, Rengan R, Tseng Y, Mayr N, Bhatia S, Nghiem P, Parvathaneni U

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Background: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive cutaneous malignancy. In the advanced setting, MCC is often treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors such as anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies. X-ray radiation therapy (XRT) is commonly used for palliation. There is an unmet need for new treatment options in patients progressing on immunotherapy and XRT. We present 2 patients with progressive MCC who were successfully treated with high linear energy transfer neutron radiation therapy (NRT).

Clinical Observations: Patient A, an 85-year-old white male with chronic lymphocytic leukemia had progressive MCC with multiple tumors on the face despite prior XRT and ongoing treatment with pembrolizumab. The 5 most symptomatic lesions were treated with a short course of NRT (2 × 3 Gy) while continuing pembrolizumab. All irradiated facial lesions demonstrated a complete response 2 weeks after NRT. Remarkably, an additional 4 lesions located outside the NRT fields also completely resolved. Patient B, a 78-year-old white male with no immunosuppressive condition had recurrent MCC in the scalp and bilateral cervical nodes. The painful, ulcerative tumors on his scalp were progressing despite multiple courses of XRT and multiple immunotherapy regimens, including pembrolizumab. He was treated with NRT (16-18 Gy) to the scalp and had a complete response with successful palliation. While his disease subsequently progressed outside the NRT fields, the response to NRT bridged him to receive further investigational immunotherapies, and he remains disease free 3 years later.

Conclusion: Short courses of high linear energy transfer particle therapy deserve consideration as a promising modality for local tumor control in XRT refractory tumors. The out-of-field response suggests that NRT has potential for synergizing with immunotherapy. While more data are required to identify optimal NRT parameters, the NRT dose that potentiates an antitumor immune response appears to be well below organ-at-risk tolerance.

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