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Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Radiation Oncology


Respiratory motion poses significant problems in the radiotherapy of tumors located at sites (lung, liver, pancreas, breast) that are affected by such motion. Effects of respiratory motion on the different stages of the radiotherapy process (imaging, treatment planning and treatment delivery), has formed the focus of significant research over the last decade. Results from such research have revealed that respiratory motion affects the instantaneous position of almost all structures in the thorax and abdomen to different degrees based on their corresponding anatomic location and muscular attachments. As an example, diaphragm motion was found to be of the order of 1.5 cm, predominantly in the superior-inferior (SI) direction during normal breathing. This indicates a similar magnitude of motion for tumors located in the lower lobes of the lung and in the abdomen.The conventional method of accounting for such motion is to add a margin (based on an estimate of the expected range of organ motion) around the clinical target volume (CTV) that is delineated from the image data. This margin also includes errors due beam-bony anatomy alignment during radiation delivery and errors in patient position between simulation and subsequent treatment delivery sessions. Such a margin estimate may or may not encompass the "current" extent of motion exhibited by the tumor, resulting in either a higher dose to the surrounding normal tissue or a potential cold spot in the tumor volume. Several clinical studies have reported the existence of a direct relationship between the reduction in mean dose to the lung and the incidence of radiation induced pneumonitis. Therefore, subjecting additional normal lung tissue to high dose radiation by adding large margins based on organ motion estimates may result in an increased risk of radiation induced lung injury.Monitoring and accounting for respiratory motion can however potentate a reduction in the amount of normal tissue that receives high dose radiation, thereby decreasing the probability of normal tissue complication and also increasing the possibility for dose escalation to the actual tumor volume. The management (monitoring and accounting) of respiratory motion during radiation oncology forms the primary theme of this dissertation.Specific aims of this thesis dissertation include (a) identifying the deleterious effects of respiratory motion on conventional radiation therapy techniques (b) examining the different solutions that have been proposed to counter the deleterious effects of respiratory motion during radiotherapy (c) summarizing the relevant work conducted at our institution as part of this thesis in addressing the issue of respiratory motion and (d) visualizing the future direction of research in the management of respiratory motion in radiation oncology.Among the various techniques available to manage respiratory motion in radiation oncology such as respiratory gated and breath hold based radiotherapy, our research initially focused on respiratory gated radiotherapy, employing a commercially available external marker based real time position monitoring system. Multiple session recordings of simultaneous diaphragm motion and external marker motion revealed a consistent linear relationship between the two signals indicating that the external marker motion (along the anterior-posterior (AP) direction) could be used as a "surrogate" for motion of internal anatomy (along the SI direction). The predictability of diaphragm motion based on such external marker motion both within and between treatment sessions was also determined to be of the order of 0.1 cm.Analysis of the parameters that affected the accuracy and efficacy of respiratory gated radiotherapy revealed a direct relationship between the amount of residual motion and the width of the "gate" window. It also followed therefore that a trade-off existed between the width of the "gate" and the accuracy of gated treatments and also the overall "Beam ON" time. Further, gating during exhale was found to be more reproducible than gating during inhale. Although, it was evident that a reduction in the width of the "gate" implied a reduction in the margins added around the clinical target volume (CTV), such a reduction was limited by setup error.A study of the potential gains that could be derived from respiratory gating (based on motion phantom experimental set up) indicated a potential CTV-PTV margin reduction of 0.2-1.1 cm while employing gating alone in combination with an electronic portal imaging device, thus decreasing the amount of healthy tissue receiving radiation. In addition, gating also improved the quality of images obtained during simulation by reducing the amount of motion artifacts that are typically seen during conventional spiral CT imaging.Imparting some form of training was hypothesized to better enable patients to breathe in a reproducible fashion, which was further thought to increase the accuracy and efficacy of gated radiotherapy, especially when the "gate" was set close to the inhale portion of the breathing cycle. An analysis of breathing patterns recorded from five patients over several sessions under conditions of normal quiet breathing, breathing with audio instructions and breathing with visual feedback indicated that training improved the reproducibility of amplitude or frequency of patient breathing cycles.An initial exploration into respiration synchronized radiotherapy was thought to facilitate realization of reduced margins without having to hold the radiation beam delivery during a breathing cycle (as is the case with gating). A feasibility study based on superimposition of respiratory motion of a tumor (simulated by a sinusoidal motion oscillator) onto the initial beam aperture as formed by the multileaf collimator (MLC) revealed that tumor dose measurements obtained with such a set up were equivalent to those delivered to a static tumor by a static beam.Finally, a feasibility study for a method to acquire respiration synchronized images of a motion phantom and a patient (in order to perform respiration synchronized treatment planning and delivery) yielded success in the form of a 4D CT data set with reduced motion artifacts.In summary, respiratory gated radiotherapy and respiration synchronized are both viable approaches to account for respiratory motion during radiotherapy. While respiratory gated radiotherapy has been successfully implemented in some centers, several technical advances are required to enable similar success in the implementation of respiration synchronized radiotherapy. However, the potential clinical gains that can be obtained from either of the above approaches and their relative contributions to margin reduction will determine their future applicability as routine treatment procedures.


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VCU University Archives

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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008