Introduction: Image guided adaptive brachytherapy (IGABT) for cervical cancer, using mainly MRI, is an evolving method, increasingly replacing the 2D approach based on conventional radiography. During the complex 4D chain of this procedure image-assistance is provided for disease assessment, provisional treatment planning ("pre-planning"), applicator placement and reconstruction, as well as for contouring, definitive treatment planning and quality control of dose delivery. With IGABT changes of topography adjacent to the applicator, caused by tumour regression, oedema, organ changes and dilation are identified. Thus, the CTV for IGABT is primarily based on the tumour volume at the time of BT and takes into account both time and spatial domains. IGABT requires systematic concepts for target, OAR, biological modelling, DVH analysis, and dose-volume-adaptation.
Methods and results: This report focuses on the advantages and uncertainties, dose-effect relations and clinical results of the IGABT procedure addressing the current status and future perspectives. Uncertainties during the 4D chain of IGABT are mainly related to target contouring, applicator reconstruction, as well as to inter-fraction, intra-fraction and inter-application variability, as caused by tumour response and organ changes. Different from EBRT where set-up uncertainties are compensated by adding a margin to the CTV, no margins to the lateral and anterior-posterior directions can be used for IGABT.
Discussion: By 3D treatment planning for IGABT significant improvement of the DVH parameters is achieved compared to 2D library plans. In small tumours the benefit is primarily obtained by a decrease of dose to nearby OAR while in large tumours the use of supplementary interstitial techniques and optimization may double the target volume that can be treated at a therapeutic dose level. The clinical impact of IGABT could recently be demonstrated by the establishment of some correlations between target- and organ-related DVH parameters versus disease control and side effects, which need further clarification. Overall, a very high local control rate can be achieved with minor treatment related morbidity. This favourable therapeutic ratio seems to be now reproducible under different conditions at various treatment centres. These results have to be validated within the upcoming multi-centre prospective IntErnational study on MRI-guided brachytherapy in locally advanced cervical cancer (EMBRACE).