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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2006 Feb 1;64(2):435-48. Epub 2005 Sep 28.

Reduction of observer variation using matched CT-PET for lung cancer delineation: a three-dimensional analysis.

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The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Amsterdam, and Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.



Target delineation using only CT information introduces large geometric uncertainties in radiotherapy for lung cancer. Therefore, a reduction of the delineation variability is needed. The impact of including a matched CT scan with 2-[18F]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) and adaptation of the delineation protocol and software on target delineation in lung cancer was evaluated in an extensive multi-institutional setting and compared with the delineations using CT only.


The study was separated into two phases. For the first phase, 11 radiation oncologists (observers) delineated the gross tumor volume (GTV), including the pathologic lymph nodes of 22 lung cancer patients (Stages I-IIIB) on CT only. For the second phase (1 year later), the same radiation oncologists delineated the GTV of the same 22 patients on a matched CT-FDG-PET scan using an adapted delineation protocol and software (according to the results of the first phase). All delineated volumes were analyzed in detail. The observer variation was computed in three dimensions by measuring the distance between the median GTV surface and each individual GTV. The variation in distance of all radiation oncologists was expressed as a standard deviation. The observer variation was evaluated for anatomic regions (lung, mediastinum, chest wall, atelectasis, and lymph nodes) and interpretation regions (agreement and disagreement; i.e., >80% vs. <80% of the radiation oncologists delineated the same structure, respectively). All radiation oncologist-computer interactions were recorded and analyzed with a tool called "Big Brother."


The overall three-dimensional observer variation was reduced from 1.0 cm (SD) for the first phase (CT only) to 0.4 cm (SD) for the second phase (matched CT-FDG-PET). The largest reduction in the observer variation was seen in the atelectasis region (SD 1.9 cm reduced to 0.5 cm). The mean ratio between the common and encompassing volume was 0.17 and 0.29 for the first and second phases, respectively. For the first phase, the common volume was 0 in 4 patients (i.e., no common point for all GTVs). In the second phase, the common volume was always >0. For all anatomic regions, the interpretation differences among the radiation oncologists were reduced. The amount of disagreement was 45% and 18% for the first and second phase, respectively. Furthermore, the mean delineation time (12 vs. 16 min, p<0.001) and mean number of corrections (25 vs. 39, p<0.001) were reduced in the second phase compared with the first phase.


For high-precision radiotherapy, the delineation of lung target volumes using only CT introduces too great a variability among radiation oncologists. Implementing matched CT-FDG-PET and adapted delineation protocol and software reduced observer variation in lung cancer delineation significantly with respect to CT only. However, the remaining observer variation was still large compared with other geometric uncertainties (setup variation and organ motion).

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