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There is much evidence for the detrimental effect on tumour control of missed treatment days during radiotherapy, amounting for example to approximately a 1.6% absolute decrease in local control probability per day of treatment prolongation in the case of head and neck squamous cell cancer. Various methods to compensate for missed treatment days are compared quantitatively in this article, using the linear-quadratic formalism. The overall time and fraction size can be maintained by either treating on weekend days (the preferred way (Method 1a), although with unsocial hours and at extra cost) or using two fractions per day to 'catch up' (Method 1b). The latter might incur a small loss of tolerance regarding late reactions, when intervals of 6-8 h are used rather than 24 h, and there may be logistical/scheduling difficulties with larger numbers of patients in some centres when using this method. A second type of strategy retains overall treatment time, and also one fraction per day, but the size of the dose per fraction is increased. For example, this may be done for the same number of 'post-gap' days as gap days (Method 2). However, with this method, calculated isoeffect doses regarding late reactions indicate a probable decrease in tumour control rate (Method 2a). Otherwise, isoeffective doses regarding tumour control result in an increase in late reactions (Method 2b). In addition, this method is unsuitable for short regimens already using high doses per fraction. To reduce this problem, overall treatment time can also be retained by using fewer fractions, all of greater size in the case of planned gaps (statutory holidays), or larger remaining fractions after unplanned gaps (Method 2c). The problem also with this method is that equivalence for tumour control gives an increase in late reactions. The least satisfactory strategy (Method 3) is to accept the protraction caused by the missed treatment days, and give either the same prescribed number of (slightly larger) fractions or the planned treatment followed by one (or more) extra fraction to compensate for the gap. This would retain the expected local control rate, but there would be an increase in late reactions. An example of this, using average parameter values, is that a 3-day gap (necessitating four extra days to complete treatment with one fraction of 2.4 Gy) might maintain a 70% local control rate for glottic carcinoma, but severe reactions might rise from 1% to 4% and minor/moderate reactions from 37% to 50%. In this example, the inclusion of an extra weekend would increase the required extra dose and hence may further increase the morbidity rates. A final point is that the effect of treatment interruptions for an individual patient is expected to be greater than that for a group of patients because of interpatient heterogeneity tending to flatten dose-response curves. Calculations show that the above value of 1.6% loss of local control per day for a group of patients may reflect values for individual patients that range around a median value of as much as 5% per day, so stressing further the importance of gaps in treatment. It is concluded that, wherever possible, treatment days should not be missed. If they are missed, it is important to compensate for them, preferably by one of the first of the above methods (1a or 1b), in order to keep as close as possible to the original/standard prescription in terms of total dose, dose per fraction and overall time.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical Oncology

Publication Date





297 - 307