In radiotherapy for prostate cancer, the rectum is the major dose-limiting structure. Physically separating the rectum from the prostate (e.g., by injecting a spacer) can reduce the rectal radiation dose. Despite pilot clinical studies, no careful analysis has been done of the risks, benefits, and dosimetric effects of this practice.
Methods and Materials
Using cadaveric specimens, 20 mL of a hydrogel was injected between the prostate and rectum using a transperineal approach. Imaging was performed before and after spacer placement, and the cadavers were subsequently dissected. Ten intensity-modulated radiotherapy plans were generated (five before and five after separation), allowing for characterization of the rectal dose reduction. To quantify the amount of prostate-rectum separation needed for effective rectal dose reduction, simulations were performed using nine clinically generated intensity-modulated radiotherapy plans.
In the cadaveric studies, an average of 12.5 mm of prostate-rectum separation was generated with the 20-mL hydrogel injections (the seminal vesicles were also separated from the rectum). The average rectal volume receiving 70 Gy decreased from 19.9% to 4.5% (p < .05). In the simulation studies, a prostate-rectum separation of 10 mm was sufficient to reduce the mean rectal volume receiving 70 Gy by 83.1% (p < .05). No additional reduction in the average rectal volume receiving 70 Gy was noted after 15 mm of separation. In addition, spacer placement allowed for increased planning target volume margins without exceeding the rectal dose tolerance.
Prostate-rectum spacers can allow for reduced rectal toxicity rates, treatment intensification, and/or reduced dependence on complex planning and treatment delivery techniques.