The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) alone for radiation planning is limited by the lack of electron density for dose calculations. The purpose of this work is to evaluate the dosimetric accuracy of using bulk electron density as a substitute for computed tomography (CT)-derived electron density in intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) treatment planning of head and neck (HN) cancers. Ten clinically-approved, CT-based IMRT treatment plans of HN cancer were used for this study. Three dose distributions were calculated and compared for each treatment plan. The first calculation used CT-derived density and was assumed to be the most accurate. The second calculation used a homogeneous patient density of Symbol. For the third dose calculation, bone and air cavities were contoured and assigned a uniform density of Symbol and Symbol, respectively. The remaining tissues were assigned a density of Symbol. The use of homogeneous anatomy resulted in up to 4%–5% deviations in dose distribution as compared to CT-derived electron density calculations. Assigning bulk density to bone and air cavities significantly improved the accuracy of the dose calculations. All parameters used to describe planning target volume coverage were within 2% of calculations based on CT-derived density. For organs at risk, most of the parameters were within 2%, with the few exceptions located in low-dose regions. The data presented here show that if bone and air cavities are overridden with the proper density, it is feasible to use a bulk electron density approach for accurate dose calculation in IMRT treatment planning of HN cancers. This may overcome the problem of the lack of electron density information should MRI-only simulation be performed.
PACS number: 87.55.D-