Dosimetric quality, accuracy, and deliverability of modulated radiotherapy treatments for spinal metastases

Tanya Kairn*, Daniel Papworth, Scott B. Crowe, Jennifer Anderson, David R.H. Christie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Cancer often metastasizes to the vertebra, and such metastases can be treated successfully using simple, static posterior or opposed-pair radiation fields. However, in some cases, including when re-irradiation is required, spinal cord avoidance becomes necessary and more complex treatment plans must be used. This study evaluated 16 sample intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT) treatment plans designed to treat 6 typical vertebral and paraspinal volumes using a standard prescription, with the aim of investigating the advantages and limitations of these treatment techniques and providing recommendations for their optimal use in vertebral treatments. Treatment plan quality and beam complexity metrics were evaluated using the Treatment And Dose Assessor (TADA) code. A portal-imaging–based quality assurance (QA) system was used to evaluate treatment delivery accuracy, and radiochromic film measurements were used to provide high-resolution verification of treatment plan dose accuracy, especially in the steep dose gradient regions between each vertebral target and spinal cord. All treatment modalities delivered approximately the same doses and the same levels of dose heterogeneity to each planning target volume (PTV), although the minimum PTV doses in the vertebral plans were substantially lower than the prescription, because of the requirement that the plans meet a strict constraint on the dose to the spinal cord and cord planning risk volume (PRV). All plans met required dose constraints on all organs at risk, and all measured PTV-cord dose gradients were steeper than planned. Beam complexity analysis suggested that the IMRT treatment plans were more deliverable (less complex, leading to greater QA success) than the VMAT treatment plans, although the IMRT plans also took more time to deliver. The accuracy and deliverability of VMAT treatment plans were found to be substantially increased by limiting the number of monitor units (MU) per beam at the optimization stage, and thereby limiting beam modulation complexity. The VMAT arcs that were optimized with MU limitation had higher QA pass rates as well as higher modulation complexity scores (less complexity), lower modulation indices (less modulation), lower MU per beam, larger beam segments, and fewer small apertures than the VMAT arcs that were optimized without MU limitation. It is recommended that VMAT treatments for vertebral volumes, where the PTV abuts or surrounds the spinal cord, should be optimized with MU limitation. IMRT treatments may be preferable to the VMAT treatments, for dosimetry and deliverability reasons, but may be inappropriate for some patients because of their increased treatment delivery time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-266
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Dosimetry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2016


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