The primary goal of this study was to examine systematically the dosimetric effect of small patient movements and linear accelerator angular setting misalignments in the delivery of intensity modulated radiation therapy. We will also provide a method for estimating dosimetric errors for an arbitrary combination of these uncertainties.Sites in two patients (lumbar-vertebra and nasopharynx) were studied. Optimized intensity modulated radiation therapy treatment plans were computed for each patient using a commercially available inverse planning system (CORVUS, NOMOS Corporation, Sewickley, PA). The plans used nine coplanar beams. For each patient the dose distributions and relevant dosimetric quantities were calculated, including the maximum, minimum, and average doses in targets and sensitive structures. The corresponding dose volumetric information was recalculated by purposely varying the collimator angle or gantry angle of an incident beam while keeping other beams unchanged. Similar calculations were carried out by varying the couch indices in either horizontal or vertical directions. The intensity maps of all the beams were kept the same as those in the optimized plan. The change of a dosimetric quantity, Q, for a combination of collimator and gantry angle misalignments and patient displacements was estimated using Delta=Sigma(DeltaQ/Deltax(i))Deltax(i). Here DeltaQ is the variation of Q due to Deltax(i), which is the change of the i-th variable (collimator angle, gantry angle, or couch indices), and DeltaQ/Deltax(i) is a quantity equivalent to the partial derivative of the dosimetric quantity Q with respect to x(i).While the change in dosimetric quantities was case dependent, it was found that the results were much more sensitive to small changes in the couch indices than to changes in the accelerator angular setting. For instance, in the first example in the paper, a 3-mm movement of the couch in the anterior-posterior direction can cause a 38% decrease in the minimum target dose or a 41% increase in the maximum cord dose, whereas a 5 degrees change in the θ(1)=20 degrees beam only gave rise to a 1.5% decrease in the target minimum or 5.1% in the cord maximum. The effect of systematic positioning uncertainties of the machine settings was more serious than random uncertainties, which tended to smear out the errors in dose distributions.The dose distribution of an intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) plan changes with patient displacement and angular misalignment in a complex way. A method was proposed to estimate dosimetric errors for an arbitrary combination of uncertainties in these quantities. While it is important to eliminate the angular misalignment, it was found that the couch indices (or patient positioning) played a much more important role. Accurate patient set-up and patient immobilization is crucial in order to take advantage fully of the technological advances of IMRT. In practice, a sensitivity check should be useful to foresee potential IMRT treatment complications and a warning should be given if the sensitivity exceeds an empirical value. Quality assurance action levels for a given plan can be established out of the sensitivity calculation.
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View details for PubMedID 10869760