Design of a fully integrated three-dimensional computed tomography simulator and preliminary clinical evaluation

Carlos A. Perez, James A. Purdy, William Harms, Russell Gerber, John Matthews, Perry W. Grigsby, Mary L. Graham, Bahman Emami, Henry K. Lee, Jeff M. Michalski, Susan Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Purpose: We descriibe the conceptual structure and process of a fully integrated three-dimensional (3-D) computed tomography (CT) simulator and present a preliminary clinical and financial evaluation of our current system. Methods and Materials: This is a preliminary report on 117 patients treated with external beam radiation therapy alone on whom a 3-D simulation and treatment plan and delivery were carried out from July 1, 1992, through June 30, 1993. The elements of a fully integrated 3-D CT simulator were identified: (a) volumetric definition of tumor volume and patient anatomy obtained with a CT scanner, (b) virtual simulation for beam setup and digitally reconstructed radiographs, (c) 3-D treatment planning for volumetric dose computation and plan evaluation, (d) patient-marking device to outline portal on patient's skin, and (e) verification (physical) simulation to verify portal placement on the patient. Actual time-motion (time and effort) recording was made by each professional involved in the various steps of the 3-D simulation and treatment planning on computer-compatible forms. Data were correlated with the anatomic site of the primary tumor being planned. Cost accounting of revenues and operation of the CT simulator and the 3-D planning was carried out, and projected costs per examination, depending on case load, were generated. Results: Average time for CT volumetric simulation was 74 min without or 84 min with contrast material. Average times were 36 min for contouring of tumor/target volume and 44 min for normal anatomy, 78 min for treatment planning, 53 min for plan evaluation/optimization, and 58 min for verification simulation. There were significant variations in time and effort according to the specific anatomic location of the tumor. Portal marking of patient on the CT simulator was not consistently satisfactory, and this procedure was usually carried out on the physical simulator. Based on actual budgetary information, the cost of a volumetric CT simulation (separate from the 3-D treatment planning;) showed that 1500 examinations per year (six per day in 250 working days) must be performed to make the operation of the device cost effective. The same financial projections for the entire 3-D planning process and verification yielded five plans per day. Some features were identified that will improve the use of the 3-D simulator, and solutions are offered to incorporate them in existing devices. Conclusions: Commercially available CT simulators lack some elements that we believe are critical in a fully integrated 3-D CT simulator. Sophisticated 3-D simulation and treatment planning can be carried out in a significant number of patients at a reasonable cost. Time and effort and therefore cost vary according to the anatomic site of the tumor being planned and the number of procedures performed. Further efforts are necessary, with collaboration of radiation oncologists, physicists, and manufacturers, to develop more versatile and efficient 3-D CT simulators, and additional clinical experience is required to make this technology cost effective in standard radiation therapy of patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-897
Number of pages11
JournalInternational journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 15 1994


  • Planning of radiation therapy
  • Three-dimensional (3-D) CT simulation
  • Three-dimensional (3-D) treatment planning


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