How rapid advances in imaging are defining the future of precision radiation oncology

Br J Cancer. 2019 Apr;120(8):779-790. doi: 10.1038/s41416-019-0412-y. Epub 2019 Mar 26.


Imaging has an essential role in the planning and delivery of radiotherapy. Recent advances in imaging have led to the development of advanced radiotherapy techniques-including image-guided radiotherapy, intensity-modulated radiotherapy, stereotactic body radiotherapy and proton beam therapy. The optimal use of imaging might enable higher doses of radiation to be delivered to the tumour, while sparing normal surrounding tissues. In this article, we review how the integration of existing and novel forms of computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography have transformed tumour delineation in the radiotherapy planning process, and how these advances have the potential to allow a more individualised approach to the cancer therapy. Recent data suggest that imaging biomarkers that assess underlying tumour heterogeneity can identify areas within a tumour that are at higher risk of radio-resistance, and therefore potentially allow for biologically focussed dose escalation. The rapidly evolving concept of adaptive radiotherapy, including artificial intelligence, requires imaging during treatment to be used to modify radiotherapy on a daily basis. These advances have the potential to improve clinical outcomes and reduce radiation-related long-term toxicities. We outline how recent technological advances in both imaging and radiotherapy delivery can be combined to shape the future of precision radiation oncology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Positron Emission Tomography Computed Tomography / methods
  • Proton Therapy / trends
  • Radiation Oncology / trends*
  • Radiosurgery / trends
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Radiotherapy, Image-Guided / trends
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / trends