Feasibility study of using fall-off gradients of early and late PET scans for proton range verification

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While positron emission tomography (PET) allows for the imaging of tissues activated by proton beams in terms of monitoring the therapy administered, most endogenous tissue elements are activated by relatively high-energy protons. Therefore, a relatively large distance off-set exists between the dose fall-off and activity fall-off. However, 16O(p,2p,2n)13N has a relatively low energy threshold which peaks around 12 MeV and also a residual proton range that is approximately 1 to 2 mm. In this phantom study, we tested the feasibility of utilizing the 13N production peak as well as the differences in activity fall-off between early and late PET scans for proton range verification. One of the main purposes for this research was developing a proton range verification methodology that would not require Monte Carlo simulations.

Methods and materials

Both monoenergetic and spread-out Bragg peak beams were delivered to two phantoms — a water-like gel and a tissue-like gel where the proton ranges came to be approximately 9.9 and 9.1 cm, respectively. After 1 min of postirradiation delay, the phantoms were scanned for a period of 30 min using an in-room PET. Two separate (Early and Late) PET images were reconstructed using two different postirradiation delays and acquisition times; Early PET: 1 min delay and 3 min acquisition, Late PET: 21 min delay and 10 min acquisition. The depth gradients of the PET signals were then normalized and plotted as functions of depth. The normalized gradient of the early PET images was subtracted from that of the late PET images, to observe the 13N activity distribution in relation to depth. Monte Carlo simulations were also conducted with the same set-up as the measurements stated previously.


The subtracted gradients show peaks at 9.4 and 8.6 cm in water-gel and tissue-gel respectively for both pristine and SOBP beams. These peaks are created in connection with the sudden change of 13N signals with depth and consistently occur 2 mm upstream to where 13N signals were most abundantly created (9.6 and 8.8 cm in water-gel and tissue-gel, respectively). Monte Carlo simulations provided similar results as the measurements.


The subtracted PET signal gradient peaks and the proton ranges for water-gel and tissue-gel show distance off-sets of 4 to 5 mm. This off-set may potentially be used for proton range verification using only the PET measured data without Monte Carlo simulations. More studies are necessary to overcome various limitations, such as perfusion-driven washout, for the feasibility of this technique in living patients.

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