Uncertainties in CT-based radiation therapy treatment planning associated with patient breathing

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1996 Aug 1;36(1):167-74. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(96)00275-1.


Purpose: To evaluate uncertainties associated with treatment-planning computed tomography (CT) data obtained with the patient breathing freely.

Methods and materials: Patients with thoracic or abdominal tumors underwent a standard treatment-planning CT study while breathing quietly and freely, followed by CT scans while holding their breath at normal inhalation and normal exhalation. Identical treatment plans on all three CT data sets for each patient pointed out differences in: (a) radiation path lengths; (b) positions of the organs; (c) physical volumes of the lung, liver, and kidneys; (d) the interpretation of plan evaluation tools such as dose-volume histograms and normal tissue complication probability (NTCP) models; and (e) how well the planning CT data set represented the average of the inhalation and exhalation studies.

Results: Inhalation and exhalation data differ in terms of radiation path length (nearly one quarter of the cases had path-length differences > 1 cm), although the free breathing and average path lengths do not exhibit large differences (0-9 mm). Liver and kidney movements averaged 2 cm, whereas differences between the free breathing and average positions averaged 0.6 cm. The physical volume of the liver between the free breathing and static studies varied by as much as 12%. The NTCP calculations on exhale and inhale studies varied from 3 to 43% for doses that resulted in a 15% NTCP on the free-breathing studies.

Conclusion: Free-breathing CT studies may improperly estimate the position and volume of critical structures, and thus may mislead evaluation of plans based on such volume dependent criteria such as dose-volume histograms and NTCP calculations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Models, Structural
  • Radiotherapy Dosage*
  • Respiration*
  • Thoracic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Thorax / anatomy & histology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed