Dose-shaping using targeted sparse optimization

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Dose volume histograms (DVHs) are common tools in radiation therapy treatment planning to characterize plan quality. As statistical metrics, DVHs provide a compact summary of the underlying plan at the cost of losing spatial information: the same or similar dose-volume histograms can arise from substantially different spatial dose maps. This is exactly the reason why physicians and physicists scrutinize dose maps even after they satisfy all DVH endpoints numerically. However, up to this point, little has been done to control spatial phenomena, such as the spatial distribution of hot spots, which has significant clinical implications. To this end, the authors propose a novel objective function that enables a more direct tradeoff between target coverage, organ-sparing, and planning target volume (PTV) homogeneity, and presents our findings from four prostate cases, a pancreas case, and a head-and-neck case to illustrate the advantages and general applicability of our method.


In designing the energy minimization objective (Symbol), the authors utilized the following robust cost functions: (1) an asymmetric linear well function to allow differential penalties for underdose, relaxation of prescription dose, and overdose in the PTV; (2) a two-piece linear function to heavily penalize high dose and mildly penalize low and intermediate dose in organs-at risk (OARs); and (3) a total variation energy, i.e., the L1 norm applied to the first-order approximation of the dose gradient in the PTV. By minimizing a weighted sum of these robust costs, general conformity to dose prescription and dose-gradient prescription is achieved while encouraging prescription violations to follow a Laplace distribution. In contrast, conventional quadratic objectives are associated with a Gaussian distribution of violations, which is less forgiving to large violations of prescription than the Laplace distribution. As a result, the proposed objective Symbol improves tradeoff between planning goals by “sacrificing” voxels that have already been violated to improve PTV coverage, PTV homogeneity, and/or OAR-sparing. In doing so, overall plan quality is increased since these large violations only arise if a net reduction in Symbol occurs as a result. For example, large violations to dose prescription in the PTV in Symbol-optimized plans will naturally localize to voxels in and around PTV-OAR overlaps where OAR-sparing may be increased without compromising target coverage. The authors compared the results of our method and the corresponding clinical plans using analyses of DVH plots, dose maps, and two quantitative metrics that quantify PTV homogeneity and overdose. These metrics do not penalize underdose since Symbol-optimized plans were planned such that their target coverage was similar or better than that of the clinical plans. Finally, plan deliverability was assessed with the 2D modulation index.


The proposed method was implemented using IBM's CPLEX optimization package (ILOG CPLEX, Sunnyvale, CA) and required 1-4 min to solve with a 12-core Intel i7 processor. In the testing procedure, the authors optimized for several points on the Pareto surface of four 7-field 6MV prostate cases that were optimized for different levels of PTV homogeneity and OAR-sparing. The generated results were compared against each other and the clinical plan by analyzing their DVH plots and dose maps. After developing intuition by planning the four prostate cases, which had relatively few tradeoffs, the authors applied our method to a 7-field 6 MV pancreas case and a 9-field 6MV head-and-neck case to test the potential impact of our method on more challenging cases. The authors found that our formulation: (1) provided excellent flexibility for balancing OAR-sparing with PTV homogeneity; and (2) permitted the dose planner more control over the evolution of the PTV's spatial dose distribution than conventional objective functions. In particular,Symbol-optimized plans for the pancreas case and head-and-neck case exhibited substantially improved sparing of the spinal cord and parotid glands, respectively, while maintaining or improving sparing for other OARs and markedly improving PTV homogeneity. Plan deliverability for Symbol-optimized plans was shown to be better than their associated clinical plans, according to the two-dimensional modulation index.


These results suggest that our formulation may be used to improve dose-shaping and OAR-sparing for complicated disease sites, such as the pancreas or head and neck. Furthermore, our objective function and constraints are linear and constitute a linear program, which converges to the global minimum quickly, and can be easily implemented in treatment planning software. Thus, the authors expect fast translation of our method to the clinic where it may have a positive impact on plan quality for challenging disease sites.

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