The parotid gland is an important organ at risk of complications of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. In this study, we examined the potential of dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI) for assessment of radiation injury to the parotid glands. DCE-MRI was performed before and 3 months after radiotherapy in patients treated for head and neck cancer. DCE-MRI was analyzed using the pharmacokinetic model proposed by Tofts and Kermode to produce three DCE parameters: ktrans, ve and vp. These parameters were correlated with the dose of radiation delivered to the parotid glands and the degree of radiation-induced parotid atrophy. The mean radiation dose received by the parotid glands was 47.1 ± 6.6 Gy. All patients received concurrent chemotherapy. There was a significant rise in all three parameters after therapy (P < 0.0001). Baseline ve and vp and the post-treatment rise in ve correlated with parotid gland atrophy (P  =  0.0008, 0.0003 and 0.0022, respectively). DCE-MRI has the potential to be used as a non-invasive technique for predicting and assessing radiation injury in the parotid glands.

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