Nuclear physics in particle therapy: a review

Rep Prog Phys. 2016 Sep;79(9):096702. doi: 10.1088/0034-4885/79/9/096702. Epub 2016 Aug 19.


Charged particle therapy has been largely driven and influenced by nuclear physics. The increase in energy deposition density along the ion path in the body allows reducing the dose to normal tissues during radiotherapy compared to photons. Clinical results of particle therapy support the physical rationale for this treatment, but the method remains controversial because of the high cost and of the lack of comparative clinical trials proving the benefit compared to x-rays. Research in applied nuclear physics, including nuclear interactions, dosimetry, image guidance, range verification, novel accelerators and beam delivery technologies, can significantly improve the clinical outcome in particle therapy. Measurements of fragmentation cross-sections, including those for the production of positron-emitting fragments, and attenuation curves are needed for tuning Monte Carlo codes, whose use in clinical environments is rapidly increasing thanks to fast calculation methods. Existing cross sections and codes are indeed not very accurate in the energy and target regions of interest for particle therapy. These measurements are especially urgent for new ions to be used in therapy, such as helium. Furthermore, nuclear physics hardware developments are frequently finding applications in ion therapy due to similar requirements concerning sensors and real-time data processing. In this review we will briefly describe the physics bases, and concentrate on the open issues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't