The effect of dose calculation accuracy during inverse treatment planning for intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) was studied in this work. Three dose calculation methods were compared: Monte Carlo, superposition and pencil beam. These algorithms were used to calculate beamlets. which were subsequently used by a simulated annealing algorithm to determine beamlet weights which comprised the optimal solution to the objective function. Three different cases (lung, prostate and head and neck) were investigated and several different objective functions were tested for their effect on inverse treatment planning. It is shown that the use of inaccurate dose calculation introduces two errors in a treatment plan, a systematic error and a convergence error. The systematic error is present because of the inaccuracy of the dose calculation algorithm. The convergence error appears because the optimal intensity distribution for inaccurate beamlets differs from the optimal solution for the accurate beamlets. While the systematic error for superposition was found to be approximately 1% of Dmax in the tumour and slightly larger outside, the error for the pencil beam method is typically approximately 5% of Dmax and is rather insensitive to the given objectives. On the other hand, the convergence error was found to be very sensitive to the objective function, is only slightly correlated to the systematic error and should be determined for each case individually. Our results suggest that because of the large systematic and convergence errors, inverse treatment planning systems based on pencil beam algorithms alone should be upgraded either to superposition or Monte Carlo based dose calculations.
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