Brachial plexus-associated neuropathy after high-dose radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer

Allen M. Chen, William H. Hall, Judy Li, Laurel A Beckett, D Gregory Farwell, Derick H Lau, James A. Purdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Scopus citations


Purpose: To identify clinical and treatment-related predictors of brachial plexus-associated neuropathies after radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer. Methods and Materials: Three hundred thirty patients who had previously completed radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer were prospectively screened using a standardized instrument for symptoms of neuropathy thought to be related to brachial plexus injury. All patients were disease-free at the time of screening. The median time from completion of radiation therapy was 56 months (range, 6-135 months). One-hundred fifty-five patients (47%) were treated by definitive radiation therapy, and 175 (53%) were treated postoperatively. Radiation doses ranged from 50 to 74 Gy (median, 66 Gy). Intensity-modulated radiation therapy was used in 62% of cases, and 133 patients (40%) received concurrent chemotherapy. Results: Forty patients (12%) reported neuropathic symptoms, with the most common being ipsilateral pain (50%), numbness/tingling (40%), motor weakness, and/or muscle atrophy (25%). When patients with <5 years of follow-up were excluded, the rate of positive symptoms increased to 22%. On univariate analysis, the following factors were significantly associated with brachial plexus symptoms: prior neck dissection (p = 0.01), concurrent chemotherapy (p = 0.01), and radiation maximum dose (p < 0.001). Cox regression analysis confirmed that both neck dissection (p < 0.001) and radiation maximum dose (p < 0.001) were independently predictive of symptoms. Conclusion: The incidence of brachial plexus-associated neuropathies after radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer may be underreported. In view of the dose-response relationship identified, limiting radiation dose to the brachial plexus should be considered when possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-169
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012



  • Brachial plexopathy
  • Head and neck
  • Quality of life
  • Radiation
  • Toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiation
  • Cancer Research

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