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Phys Med Biol. 2013 Jun 21;58(12):4277-96. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/58/12/4277. Epub 2013 Jun 4.

Uncertainty in assessment of radiation-induced diffusion index changes in individual patients.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0010, USA.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate repeatability coefficients of diffusion tensor indices to assess whether longitudinal changes in diffusion indices were true changes beyond the uncertainty for individual patients undergoing radiation therapy (RT). Twenty-two patients who had low-grade or benign tumors and were treated by partial brain radiation therapy (PBRT) participated in an IRB-approved MRI protocol. The diffusion tensor images in the patients were acquired pre-RT, week 3 during RT, at the end of RT, and 1, 6, and 18 months after RT. As a measure of uncertainty, repeatability coefficients (RC) of diffusion indices in the segmented cingulum, corpus callosum, and fornix were estimated by using test-retest diffusion tensor datasets from the National Biomedical Imaging Archive (NBIA) database. The upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval of the estimated RC from the test and retest data were used to evaluate whether the longitudinal percentage changes in diffusion indices in the segmented structures in the individual patients were beyond the uncertainty and thus could be considered as true radiation-induced changes. Diffusion indices in different white matter structures showed different uncertainty ranges. The estimated RC for fractional anisotropy (FA) ranged from 5.3% to 9.6%, for mean diffusivity (MD) from 2.2% to 6.8%, for axial diffusivity (AD) from 2.4% to 5.5%, and for radial diffusivity (RD) from 2.9% to 9.7%. Overall, 23% of the patients treated by RT had FA changes, 44% had MD changes, 50% had AD changes, and 50% had RD changes beyond the uncertainty ranges. In the fornix, 85.7% and 100% of the patients showed changes beyond the uncertainty range at 6 and 18 months after RT, demonstrating that radiation has a pronounced late effect on the fornix compared to other segmented structures. It is critical to determine reliability of a change observed in an individual patient for clinical decision making. Assessments of the repeatability and confidence interval of diffusion tensor measurements in white matter structures allow us to determine the true longitudinal change in individual patients.

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