J Clin Neurol.  2018 Jan;14(1):35-42. 10.3988/jcn.2018.14.1.35.

Changes in the Common Carotid Artery after Radiotherapy: Wall Thickness, Calcification, and Atherosclerosis

  • 1Department of Neurology, Kyung Hee University Hospital, Kyung Hee University School of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
  • 2Department of Neurology, Chosun University Hospital, Gwangju, Korea.
  • 3Department of Radiation Oncology, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
  • 4Department of Neurology, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea. sukwon@amc.seoul.kr


AND PURPOSE: Since the long-term survival rate has improved in laryngeal cancer patients who receive radiotherapy, concerns about postradiation complications (including carotid atherosclerosis) have increased. We followed changes in the common carotid artery (CCA) after radiotherapy and identified the underlying risk factors.
Consecutive patients with laryngeal cancer who underwent radiotherapy between January 1999 and December 2009 and who had received computed tomography (CT) both pre- and postradiotherapy were enrolled. Changes in the wall thickness and in the vessel and lumen areas as well as the presence of calcification or atherosclerosis were investigated. Demographics and risk factors were compared between patients with and without atherosclerosis at follow-up CT.
In total, 125 patients were enrolled. The wall thickness had increased and the lumen area had decreased several months after radiotherapy. These changes were not associated with vascular risk factors and were not progressive. Calcification and atherosclerosis were observed in 37 (29.6%) and 71 (56.8%) patients, respectively. Diabetes was associated with calcification (p=0.02). The prevalence of hyperlipidemia was higher in patients with atherosclerosis (28.2% vs. 11.1%, p=0.02) and for a longer period postradiation [62.7±32.1 vs. 40.0±24.2 months (mean±SD), p < 0.001]. Atherosclerosis occurred mostly in the middle portion of the CCA (n=31, 24.6%), followed by the proximal CCA at the intrathoracic level (n=26, 20.6%) and the distal CCA (n=6, 4.8%). Positive remodeling was also observed, but this was less common in patients with calcification (p=0.02).
Various types of postradiation changes occur in the CCA and can be easily observed in postradiation CT. The prevalence and burden of postradiation atherosclerosis increased in a close relationship with baseline cholesterol levels and the time after radiotherapy. Postradiation atherosclerosis was observed at unusual sites of the CCA.


radiotherapy; carotid artery; atherosclerosis; hypercholesterolemia
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