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Med Phys. 2012 Jun;39(6):3041-50. doi: 10.1118/1.4711750.

A simplified approach to characterizing a kilovoltage source spectrum for accurate dose computation.

Author information

  • 1Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N2, Canada.

Erratum in

  • Med Phys. 2013 Jul;40(7):077201.



To investigate and validate the clinical feasibility of using half-value layer (HVL) and peak tube potential (kVp) for characterizing a kilovoltage (kV) source spectrum for the purpose of computing kV x-ray dose accrued from imaging procedures. To use this approach to characterize a Varian® On-Board Imager® (OBI) source and perform experimental validation of a novel in-house hybrid dose computation algorithm for kV x-rays.


We characterized the spectrum of an imaging kV x-ray source using the HVL and the kVp as the sole beam quality identifiers using third-party freeware Spektr to generate the spectra. We studied the sensitivity of our dose computation algorithm to uncertainties in the beam's HVL and kVp by systematically varying these spectral parameters. To validate our approach experimentally, we characterized the spectrum of a Varian® OBI system by measuring the HVL using a Farmer-type Capintec ion chamber (0.06 cc) in air and compared dose calculations using our computationally validated in-house kV dose calculation code to measured percent depth-dose and transverse dose profiles for 80, 100, and 125 kVp open beams in a homogeneous phantom and a heterogeneous phantom comprising tissue, lung, and bone equivalent materials.


The sensitivity analysis of the beam quality parameters (i.e., HVL, kVp, and field size) on dose computation accuracy shows that typical measurement uncertainties in the HVL and kVp (±0.2 mm Al and ±2 kVp, respectively) source characterization parameters lead to dose computation errors of less than 2%. Furthermore, for an open beam with no added filtration, HVL variations affect dose computation accuracy by less than 1% for a 125 kVp beam when field size is varied from 5 × 5 cm(2) to 40 × 40 cm(2). The central axis depth dose calculations and experimental measurements for the 80, 100, and 125 kVp energies agreed within 2% for the homogeneous and heterogeneous block phantoms, and agreement for the transverse dose profiles was within 6%.


The HVL and kVp are sufficient for characterizing a kV x-ray source spectrum for accurate dose computation. As these parameters can be easily and accurately measured, they provide for a clinically feasible approach to characterizing a kV energy spectrum to be used for patient specific x-ray dose computations. Furthermore, these results provide experimental validation of our novel hybrid dose computation algorithm.

© 2012 American Association of Physicists in Medicine.

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