Lymphopenia during radiotherapy in patients with oropharyngeal cancer

Sweet Ping Ng, Houda Bahig, Amit Jethanandani, Courtney Pollard, Joel Berends, Erich M. Sturgis, Faye M. Johnson, Baher Elgohari, Hesham Elhalawani, David I. Rosenthal, Heath D. Skinner, G. Brandon Gunn, Jack Phan, Steven J. Frank, Abdallah S.R. Mohamed, Clifton D. Fuller, Adam S. Garden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose/Objective: Radiation-induced lymphopenia has been associated with poor survival outcomes in certain solid tumors such as esophageal, lung, cervical and pancreatic cancers. We aim to determine the effect of treatment-related lymphopenia during radiotherapy on outcomes of patients with oropharyngeal cancer. Materials/Methods: A retrospective analysis of all patients who completed definitive radiotherapy for oropharyngeal cancer at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and had blood counts taken during radiotherapy from 2002 to 2013 were included. Patient, tumor and treatment characteristics, clinical outcomes and lymphocyte counts during radiotherapy were recorded. Lymphopenia was graded according to the CTCAE v4.0. Survival rates were estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method and compared with log-rank tests. Results: 850 patients were evaluated. The median age was 57 years. The majority of the cohort had p16/HPV-positive disease (71%), 8% had HPV-negative disease and 21% were unknown. The median radiation total dose was 70 Gy. 45% of patients had induction chemotherapy, and 87% had concurrent chemotherapy. 703 (83%) patients developed ≥grade 3 (G3) lymphopenia and 209 (25%) had grade 4 (G4) lymphopenia during radiotherapy. The median follow-up was 59 months; the 5-year overall survival rate was 81%. There were no significant differences in overall survival rates nor in disease control rates, in those who developed G3/G4 lymphopenia compared with those who did not. No significant effect of lymphopenia on survival was observed when analyzed according to p16/HPV status. Conclusion: In this large cohort of patients with oropharyngeal cancer, the development of lymphopenia during radiotherapy did not impact outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-100
Number of pages6
JournalRadiotherapy and Oncology
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Lymphopenia
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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