Purpose: Plan degradation resulting from compromises made to enhance delivery efficiency is an important consideration for intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) treatment plans. IMRT optimization and/or multileaf collimator (MLC) sequencing schemes can be modified to generate more efficient treatment delivery, but the effect those modifications have on plan quality is often difficult to quantify. In this work, the authors present a method for quantitative assessment of overall plan quality degradation due to tradeoffs between delivery efficiency and treatment plan quality, illustrated using comparisons between plans developed allowing different numbers of intensity levels in IMRT optimization and/or MLC sequencing for static segmental MLC IMRT plans.
Methods: A plan quality degradation method to evaluate delivery efficiency and plan quality tradeoffs was developed and used to assess planning for 14 prostate and 12 head and neck patients treated with static IMRT. Plan quality was evaluated using a physician's predetermined “quality degradation” factors for relevant clinical plan metrics associated with the plan optimization strategy. Delivery efficiency and plan quality were assessed for a range of optimization and sequencing limitations. The “optimal” (baseline) plan for each case was derived using a clinical cost function with an unlimited number of intensity levels. These plans were sequenced with a clinical MLC leaf sequencer which uses >100 segments, assuring delivered intensities to be within 1% of the optimized intensity pattern. Each patient's optimal plan was also sequenced limiting the number of intensity levels (20, 10, and 5), and then separately optimized with these same numbers of intensity levels. Delivery time was measured for all plans, and direct evaluation of the tradeoffs between delivery time and plan degradation was performed.
Results: When considering tradeoffs, the optimal number of intensity levels depends on the treatment site and on the stage in the process at which the levels are limited. The cost of improved delivery efficiency, in terms of plan quality degradation, increased as the number of intensity levels in the sequencer or optimizer decreased. The degradation was more substantial for the head and neck cases relative to the prostate cases, particularly when fewer than 20 intensity levels were used. Plan quality degradation was less severe when the number of intensity levels was limited in the optimizer rather than the sequencer.
Conclusions: Analysis of plan quality degradation allows for a quantitative assessment of the compromises in clinical plan quality as delivery efficiency is improved, in order to determine the optimal delivery settings. The technique is based on physician-determined quality degradation factors and can be extended to other clinical situations where investigation of various tradeoffs is warranted.