Site-specific range uncertainties caused by dose calculation algorithms for proton therapy

J. Schuemann, S. Dowdell, C. Grassberger, C. H. Min, H. Paganetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this study was to assess the possibility of introducing site-specific range margins to replace current generic margins in proton therapy. Further, the goal was to study the potential of reducing margins with current analytical dose calculations methods. For this purpose we investigate the impact of complex patient geometries on the capability of analytical dose calculation algorithms to accurately predict the range of proton fields. Dose distributions predicted by an analytical pencil-beam algorithm were compared with those obtained using Monte Carlo (MC) simulations (TOPAS). A total of 508 passively scattered treatment fields were analyzed for seven disease sites (liver, prostate, breast, medulloblastoma-spine, medulloblastoma-whole brain, lung and head and neck). Voxel-by-voxel comparisons were performed on two-dimensional distal dose surfaces calculated by pencil-beam and MC algorithms to obtain the average range differences and root mean square deviation for each field for the distal position of the 90% dose level (R90) and the 50% dose level (R50). The average dose degradation of the distal falloff region, defined as the distance between the distal position of the 80% and 20% dose levels (R80-R20), was also analyzed. All ranges were calculated in water-equivalent distances. Considering total range uncertainties and uncertainties from dose calculation alone, we were able to deduce site-specific estimations. For liver, prostate and whole brain fields our results demonstrate that a reduction of currently used uncertainty margins is feasible even without introducing MC dose calculations. We recommend range margins of 2.8% + 1.2 mm for liver and prostate treatments and 3.1% + 1.2 mm for whole brain treatments, respectively. On the other hand, current margins seem to be insufficient for some breast, lung and head and neck patients, at least if used generically. If no case specific adjustments are applied, a generic margin of 6.3% + 1.2 mm would be needed for breast, lung and head and neck treatments. We conclude that the currently used generic range uncertainty margins in proton therapy should be redefined site specific and that complex geometries may require a field specific adjustment. Routine verifications of treatment plans using MC simulations are recommended for patients with heterogeneous geometries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4007-4031
Number of pages25
JournalPhysics in medicine and biology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Aug 7

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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