Defining the tumour and target volumes for radiotherapy

Cancer Imaging. 2004 Oct 21;4(2):153-61. doi: 10.1102/1470-7330.2004.0054.


Radiotherapy is a localised treatment. The definition of tumour and target volumes for radiotherapy is vital to its successful execution. This requires the best possible characterisation of the location and extent of tumour. Diagnostic imaging, including help and advice from diagnostic specialists, is therefore essential for radiotherapy planning. There are three main volumes in radiotherapy planning. The first is the position and extent of gross tumour, i.e. what can be seen, palpated or imaged; this is known as the gross tumour volume (GTV). Developments in imaging have contributed to the definition of the GTV. The second volume contains the GTV, plus a margin for sub-clinical disease spread which therefore cannot be fully imaged; this is known as the clinical target volume (CTV). It is the most difficult because it cannot be accurately defined for an individual patient, but future developments in imaging, especially towards the molecular level, should allow more specific delineation of the CTV. The CTV is important because this volume must be adequately treated to achieve cure. The third volume, the planning target volume (PTV), allows for uncertainties in planning or treatment delivery. It is a geometric concept designed to ensure that the radiotherapy dose is actually delivered to the CTV. Radiotherapy planning must always consider critical normal tissue structures, known as organs at risk (ORs). In some specific circumstances, it is necessary to add a margin analogous to the PTV margin around an OR to ensure that the organ cannot receive a higher-than-safe dose; this gives a planning organ at risk volume. This applies to an organ such as the spinal cord, where damage to a small amount of normal tissue would produce a severe clinical manifestation. The concepts of GTV, CTV and PTV have been enormously helpful in developing modern radiotherapy. Attention to detail in radiotherapy planning is vital, and does affect outcomes: 'the devil is in the detail'. Radiotherapy planning is also dependent on high quality imaging, and the better the imaging the better will be the outcomes from radiotherapy.