Quantitative Diffusion-Weighted Imaging Analyses to Predict Response to Neoadjuvant Immunotherapy in Patients with Locally Advanced Head and Neck Carcinoma

Hedda J. van der Hulst, Joris L. Vos, Renaud Tissier, Laura A. Smit, Roland M. Martens, Regina G. H. Beets-Tan, Michiel W. M. van den Brekel, Charlotte L. Zuur, Jonas A. Castelijns

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Background: Neoadjuvant immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) prior to surgery may induce early pathological responses in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients. Routine imaging parameters fail to diagnose these responses early on. Magnetic resonance (MR) diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) has proven to be useful for detecting HNSCC tumor mass after (chemo)radiation therapy. METHODS: 32 patients with stage II–IV, resectable HNSCC, treated at a phase Ib/IIa IMCISION trial (NCT03003637), were retrospectively analyzed using MR-imaging before and after two doses of single agent nivolumab (anti-PD-1) (n = 6) or nivolumab with ipilimumab (anti-CTLA-4) ICB (n = 26). The primary tumors were delineated pre- and post-treatment. A total of 32 features were derived from the delineation and correlated with the tumor regression percentage in the surgical specimen. Results: MR-DWI data was available for 24 of 32 patients. Smaller baseline tumor diameter (p = 0.01−0.04) and higher sphericity (p = 0.03) were predictive of having a good pathological response to ICB. Post-treatment skewness and the change in skewness between MRIs were negatively correlated with the tumor’s regression (p = 0.04, p = 0.02). Conclusion: Pre-treatment DWI tumor diameter and sphericity may be quantitative biomarkers for the prediction of an early pathological response to ICB. Furthermore, our data indicate that ADC skewness could be a marker for individual response evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6235
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • diffusion magnetic resonance imaging
  • immune checkpoint blockade
  • immunotherapy
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • radiomics
  • squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck

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