Background and purpose: The low density of lung tissue causes a reduced attenuation of photons and an increased range of secondary electrons, which is inaccurately predicted by the algorithms incorporated in some commonly available treatment planning systems (TPSs). This study evaluates the differences in dose in normal lung tissue computed using a simple and a more correct algorithm. We also studied the consequences of these differences on the dose-effect relations for radiation-induced lung injury. Materials and methods: The treatment plans of 68 lung cancer patients initially produced in a TPS using a calculation model that incorporates the equivalent-pathlength (EPL) inhomogeneity-correction algorithm, were recalculated in a TPS with the convolution-superposition (CS) algorithm. The higher accuracy of the CS algorithm is well-established. Dose distributions in lung were compared using isodoses, dose-volume histograms (DVHs), the mean lung dose (MLD) and the percentage of lung receiving >20 Gy (V20). Published dose-effect relations for local perfusion changes and radiation pneumonitis were re-evaluated. Results: Evaluation of isodoses showed a consistent overestimation of the dose at the lung/tumor boundary by the EPL algorithm of about 10%. This overprediction of dose was also reflected in a consistent shift of the EPL DVHs for the lungs towards higher doses. The MLD, as determined by the EPL and CS algorithm, differed on average by 17±4.5% (±1SD). For V20, the average difference was 12±5.7% (±1SD). For both parameters, a strong correlation was found between the EPL and CS algorithms yielding a straightforward conversion procedure. Re-evaluation of the dose-effect relations showed that lung complications occur at a 12-14% lower dose. The values of the TD50 parameter for local perfusion reduction and radiation pneumonitis changed from 60.5 and 34.1 Gy to 51.1 and 29.2 Gy, respectively. Conclusions: A simple tissue inhomogeneity-correction algorithm like the EPL overestimates the dose to normal lung tissue. Dosimetric parameters for lung injury (e.g. MLD, V20) computed using both algorithms are strongly correlated making an easy conversion feasible. Dose-effect relations should be refitted when more accurate dose data is available.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the grants no. 98-1831 and 99-2043 from the Dutch Cancer Society. The authors acknowledge L. Zijp for solving software problems.