Journal of Physics Conference Series
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Purpose: It is well recognized that computer technology has had a major impact on the practice of radiation oncology. This paper addresses the question as to how these computer advances have specifically impacted the accuracy of radiation dose delivery to the patient. Methods: A review was undertaken of all the key steps in the radiation treatment process ranging from machine calibration to patient treatment verification and irradiation. Using a semi-quantitative scale, each stage in the process was analysed from the point of view of gains in treatment accuracy. Results: Our critical review indicated that computerization related to digital medical imaging (ranging from target volume localization, to treatment planning, to image-guided treatment) has had the most significant impact on the accuracy of radiation treatment. Conversely, the premature adoption of intensity-modulated radiation therapy has actually degraded the accuracy of dose delivery compared to 3-D conformal radiation therapy. While computational power has improved dose calibration accuracy through Monte Carlo simulations of dosimeter response parameters, the overall impact in terms of percent improvement is relatively small compared to the improvements accrued from 3-D/4-D imaging. Conclusions: As a result of computer applications, we are better able to see and track the internal anatomy of the patient before, during and after treatment. This has yielded the most significant enhancement to the knowledge of “in vivo” dose distributions in the patient. Furthermore, a much richer set of 3-D/4-D co-registered dose-image data is thus becoming available for retrospective analysis of radiobiological and clinical responses.