Semin Radiat Oncol 1999 Jan;9(1):78-98

Comparison of three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy and intensity-modulated radiation therapy systems

Verhey LJ Department of Radiation Oncology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0226, USA.

The use of three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT) has now become common practice in radiation oncology departments around the world. Using beam's eye viewing of volumes defined on a treatment planning computed tomography scan, beam directions and beam shapes can be selected to conform to the shape of the projected target and minimize dose to critical normal structures. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) can yield dose distributions that conform closely to the three-dimensional shape of the target volume while still minimizing dose to normal structures by allowing the beam intensity to vary across those shaped fields. Predicted dose distributions for patients with tumors of the prostate, nasopharynx, and paraspinal region are compared between plans made with 3DCRT programs and those with inverse-planned IMRT programs. The IMRT plans are calculated for either static or dynamic beam delivery methods using multileaf collimators. Results of these comparisons indicate that IMRT can yield significantly better dose distributions in some situations at the expense of additional time and resources. New technologies are being developed that should significantly reduce the time needed to plan, implement, and verify these treatments. Current research should help define the future role of IMRT in clinical practice.