Introduction In this study, we investigate the role of radiomics for prediction of overall survival (OS), locoregional recurrence (LRR) and distant metastases (DM) in stage III and IV HNSCC patients treated by chemoradiotherapy. We hypothesize that radiomic analysis of (peri-)tumoral tissue may detect invasion of surrounding tissues indicating a higher chance of locoregional recurrence and distant metastasis. Methods Two comprehensive data sources were used: the Dutch Cancer Society Database (Alp 7072, DESIGN) and “Big Data To Decide” (BD2Decide). The gross tumor volumes (GTV) were delineated on contrast-enhanced CT. Radiomic features were extracted using the RadiomiX Discovery Toolbox (OncoRadiomics, Liege, Belgium). Clinical patient features such as age, gender, performance status etc. were collected. Two machine learning methods were chosen for their ability to handle censored data: Cox proportional hazards regression and random survival forest (RSF). Multivariable clinical and radiomic Cox/RSF models were generated based on significance in univariable cox regression/RSF analyses on the held out data in the training dataset. Features were selected according to a decreasing hazard ratio for Cox and relative importance for RSF. Results A total of 444 patients with radiotherapy planning CT-scans were included in this study: 301 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients in the training cohort (DESIGN) and 143 patients in the validation cohort (BD2DECIDE). We found that the highest performing model was a clinical model that was able to predict distant metastasis in oropharyngeal cancer cases with an external validation C-index of 0.74 and 0.65 with the RSF and Cox models respectively. Peritumoral radiomics based prediction models performed poorly in the external validation, with C-index values ranging from 0.32 to 0.61 utilizing both feature selection and model generation methods. Conclusion Our results suggest that radiomic features from the peritumoral regions are not useful for the prediction of time to OS, LR and DM.
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