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Molecular Imaging To Plan Radiotherapy And Evaluate Its Efficacy

Robert Jeraj, Tyler J Bradshaw, Urban Simončič
Published 2015 · Medicine
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Molecular imaging plays a central role in the management of radiation oncology patients. Specific uses of imaging, particularly to plan radiotherapy and assess its efficacy, require an additional level of reproducibility and image quality beyond what is required for diagnostic imaging. Specific requirements include proper patient preparation, adequate technologist training, careful imaging protocol design, reliable scanner technology, reproducible software algorithms, and reliable data analysis methods. As uncertainty in target definition is arguably the greatest challenge facing radiation oncology, the greatest impact that molecular imaging can have may be in the reduction of interobserver variability in target volume delineation and in providing greater conformity between target volume boundaries and true tumor boundaries. Several automatic and semiautomatic contouring methods based on molecular imaging are available but still need sufficient validation to be widely adopted. Biologically conformal radiotherapy (dose painting) based on molecular imaging–assessed tumor heterogeneity is being investigated, but many challenges remain to fully exploring its potential. Molecular imaging also plays increasingly important roles in both early (during treatment) and late (after treatment) response assessment as both a predictive and a prognostic tool. Because of potentially confounding effects of radiation-induced inflammation, treatment response assessment requires careful interpretation. Although molecular imaging is already strongly embedded in radiotherapy, the path to widespread and all-inclusive use is still long. The lack of solid clinical evidence is the main impediment to broader use. Recommendations for practicing physicians are still rather scarce. 18F-FDG PET/CT remains the main molecular imaging modality in radiation oncology applications. Although other molecular imaging options (e.g., proliferation imaging) are becoming more common, their widespread use is limited by lack of tracer availability and inadequate reimbursement models. With the increasing presence of molecular imaging in radiation oncology, special emphasis should be placed on adequate training of radiation oncology personnel to understand the potential, and particularly the limitations, of quantitative molecular imaging applications. Similarly, radiologists and nuclear medicine specialists should be sensitized to the special need of the radiation oncologist in terms of quantification and reproducibility. Furthermore, strong collaboration between radiation oncology, nuclear medicine/radiology, and medical physics teams is necessary, as optimal and safe use of molecular imaging can be ensured only within appropriate interdisciplinary teams.
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