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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2001 Aug 1;50(5):1339-49.

Monte Carlo evaluation of tissue inhomogeneity effects in the treatment of the head and neck.

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  • 1University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology, Philadelphia, PA, USA. wang@xrt.upenn.edu



To use Monte Carlo dose calculation to assess the degree to which tissue inhomogeneities in the head and neck affect static field conformal, computed tomography (CT)-based 6-MV photon treatment plans.


We retrospectively studied the three-dimensional treatment plans that had been used for the treatment of 5 patients with tumors in the nasopharyngeal or paranasal sinus regions. Two patients had large surgical cavities. The plans were designed with a clinical treatment planning system that uses a measurement-based pencil-beam dose-calculation algorithm with an equivalent path-length inhomogeneity correction. Each plan employs conformally-shaped 6-MV photon beams. Patient anatomy and electron densities were obtained from the treatment planning CT images. For each plan, the dose distribution was recalculated with the Monte Carlo method, utilizing the same beam geometry and CT images. The Monte Carlo method accurately accounts for the perturbation effects of local tissue heterogeneities. The Monte Carlo calculated dose distributions were compared with those from the clinical treatment planning system.


The degree to which tissue inhomogeneity affects the dose distributions of individual fields varies with the specific anatomic geometry, especially the size and location of air cavities in relation to the beam orientation and field size. Most of the beam apertures completely enclose the air cavities within or adjacent to the gross tumor volume (GTV). Equivalent squares (including blocking) ranged from approximately 5 to 9.5 cm. A common feature observed for individual fields is that the Monte Carlo calculated doses to tissue directly behind and within an air cavity are lower. However, after combining the fields employed in each treatment plan, the overall dose distribution shows only small differences between the two methods. For all 5 patients, the Monte Carlo calculated treatment plans showed a slightly lower dose received by the 95% of target volume (D(95)) than the plans calculated with the pencil-beam algorithm. The average difference in the target volume encompassed by the prescription isodose line was less than 2.2%. The difference between the dose-volume histograms (DVHs) of the GTV was generally small. For the brainstem and chiasm, the DVHs of the two plans were similar. For the spinal cord, differences in the details of the DHV and the dose to 1 cc (D(1cc)) of the structure were observed, with Monte Carlo calculation generally predicting increased dose indices to the spinal cord. However, these changes are not expected to be clinically significant.


For 6-MV photons, the effects of both normal tissue inhomogeneities and surgical air cavities on the target coverage were adequately accounted for by conventional pencil beam methods for all of the cases studied. Although differences in details of the DVHs of the normal structures were observed, depending on whether Monte Carlo or pencil-beam algorithm was used for calculation, these differences are not expected to be clinically significant. In general, the pencil-beam calculation corrected for primary attenuation by the equivalent pathlength is a sufficiently accurate method for head-and-neck treatment planning using 6-MV photons.

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