Intensity-modulated radiotherapy: Current status and issues of interest

J. A. Purdy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

726 Scopus citations


Purpose. To develop and disseminate a report aimed primarily at practicing radiation oncology physicians and medical physicists that describes the current state-of-the-art of intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). Those areas needing further research and development are identified by category and recommendations are given, which should also be of interest to IMRT equipment manufacturers and research funding agencies. Methods and Materials. The National Cancer Institute formed a Collaborative Working Group of experts in IMRT to develop consensus guidelines and recommendations for implementation of IMRT and for further research through a critical analysis of the published data supplemented by clinical experience. A glossary of the words and phrases currently used in IMRT is given in the Appendix. Recommendations for new terminology are given where clarification is needed. Results. IMRT, an advanced form of external beam irradiation, is a type of three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT). It represents one of the most important technical advances in RT since the advent of the medical linear accelerator. 3D-CRT/IMRT is not just an add-on to the current radiation oncology process; it represents a radical change in practice, particularly for the radiation oncologist. For example, 3D-CRT/IMRT requires the use of 3D treatment planning capabilities, such as defining target volumes and organs at risk in three dimensions by drawing contours on cross-sectional images (i.e., CT, MRI) on a slice-by-slice basis as opposed to drawing beam portals on a simulator radiograph. In addition, IMRT requires that the physician clearly and quantitatively define the treatment objectives. Currently, most IMRT approaches will increase the time and effort required by physicians, medical physicists, dosimetrists, and radiation therapists, because IMRT planning and delivery systems are not yet robust enough to provide totally automated solutions for all disease sites. Considerable research is needed to model the clinical outcomes to allow truly automated solutions. Current IMRT delivery systems are essentially first-generation systems, and no single method stands out as the ultimate technique. The instrumentation and methods used for IMRT quality assurance procedures and testing are not yet well established. In addition, many fundamental questions regarding IMRT are still unanswered. For example, the radiobiologic consequences of altered time-dose fractionation are not completely understood. Also, because there may be a much greater ability to trade off dose heterogeneity in the target vs. avoidance of normal critical structures with IMRT compared with traditional RT techniques, conventional radiation oncology planning principles are challenged. All in all, this new process of planning and treatment delivery has significant potential for improving the therapeutic ratio and reducing toxicity. Also, although inefficient currently, it is expected that IMRT, when fully developed, will improve the overall efficiency with which external beam RT can be planned and delivered, and thus will potentially lower costs. Conclusion. Recommendations in the areas pertinent to IMRT, including dose-calculation algorithms, acceptance testing, commissioning and quality assurance, facility planning and radiation safety, and target volume and dose specification, are presented. Several of the areas in which future research and development are needed are also indicated. These broad recommendations are intended to be both technical and advisory in nature, but the ultimate responsibility for clinical decisions pertaining to the implementation and use of IMRT rests with the radiation oncologist and radiation oncology physicist. This is an evolving field, and modifications of these recommendations are expected as new technology and data become available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-914
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 15 2001


  • 3D conformal therapy
  • 3D treatment planning
  • Dose calculations
  • IMRT
  • Inverse planning
  • Optimization
  • Quality assurance


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