Dose to normal tissues outside the radiation therapy patient's treated volume: A review of different radiation therapy techniques

James A. Purdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Radiation therapy treatment planning and delivery capabilities have changed dramatically since the introduction of three-dimensional treatment planning and are continuing to change relatively rapidly in response to the implementation of new advanced technologies. Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT) is now firmly in place as the standard of practice in clinics around the world. Medical accelerator manufacturers have employed advanced computer technology to produce treatment planning/delivery systems capable of precise shaping of dose distributions via computer-controlled multileaf collimator (MLC) systems, by which the beam fluence is varied optimally to achieve the desired dose distribution. This mode of conformal therapy is referred to as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and is capable of generating dose distributions (including concave isodose volumes) that closely conform the prescription dose to the target volume and/or avoid specific sensitive normal structures. The increasing use of IMRT has focused attention on the need to better account for the intra- and inter-fraction spatial uncertainties in the dose delivery process. This has helped spur the development of treatment machines with integrated planar and volumetric advanced imaging capabilities, providing a new treatment modality referred to as image-guided IMRT (IG-IMRT), or simply image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). In addition, there is a growing interest in replacing x rays with protons because of the physical characteristics of the depth dose curve, which peaks at the end of particle range, and eventually with even heavier charged particles to take advantage of the greater density of energy deposition close to the Bragg peak and hence larger relative biological effectiveness (RBE). Three-dimensional CRT, IMRT and proton beam therapy all provide improved target coverage and lower doses to surrounding normal tissues as compared to the previously used two-dimensional radiation therapy techniques. However, this is achieved at the expense of a greater volume of normal tissue in the irradiated volume receiving some dose and a higher whole body dose (or peripheral dose) to distant normal tissues. The higher whole body dose is a result of the increased x-ray leakage radiation to the patient due to the longer beam-on times associated with IMRT, and also from neutron leakage radiation associated with high energy x-ray beams (>10 MV) and proton beams. Dose distributions for the various CRT techniques and the current status of available data for normal tissues, and whole body dose are reviewed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)666-676
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2008


  • Medical imaging
  • National Council on Radiation Protection
  • Radiation risk
  • Whole body dose


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