The potential of dual-energy CT to reduce proton beam range uncertainties

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Abstract

Purpose

Dual-energy CT (DECT) promises improvements in estimating stopping power ratios (SPRs) for proton therapy treatment planning. Although several comparable mathematical formalisms have been proposed in literature, the optimal techniques to characterize human tissue SPRs with DECT in a clinical environment are not fully established. The aim of this work is to compare the most robust DECT methods against conventional single-energy CT (SECT) in conditions reproducing a clinical environment, where CT artifacts and noise play a major role on the accuracy of these techniques.

Methods

Available DECT tissue characterization methods are investigated and their ability to predict SPRs is compared in three contexts: (a) a theoretical environment using the XCOM cross section database; (b) experimental data using a dual-source CT scanner on a calibration phantom; (c) simulations of a virtual humanoid phantom with the ImaSim software. The latter comparison accounts for uncertainties caused by CT artifacts and noise, but leaves aside other sources of uncertainties such as CT grid size and the I-values. To evaluate the clinical impact, a beam range calculation model is used to predict errors from the probability distribution functions determined with ImaSim simulations. Range errors caused by SPR errors in soft tissues and bones are investigated.

Results

Range error estimations demonstrate that DECT has the potential of reducing proton beam range uncertainties by 0.4% in soft tissues using low noise levels of 12 and 8 HU in DECT, corresponding to 7 HU in SECT. For range uncertainties caused by the transport of protons through bones, the reduction in range uncertainties for the same levels of noise is found to be up to 0.6 to 1.1 mm for bone thicknesses ranging from 1 to 5 cm, respectively. We also show that for double the amount noise, i.e., 14 HU in SECT and 24 and 16 HU for DECT, the advantages of DECT in soft tissues are lost over SECT. In bones however, the reduction in range uncertainties is found to be between 0.5 and 0.9 mm for bone thicknesses ranging from 1 to 5 cm, respectively.

Conclusion

DECT has a clear potential to improve proton beam range predictions over SECT in proton therapy. However, in the current state high levels of noise remain problematic for DECT characterization methods and do not allow getting the full benefits of this technology. Future work should focus on adapting DECT methods to noise and investigate methods based on raw-data to reduce CT artifacts.

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