Radiation measurement physics
Beam characteristics of energy-matched flattening filter free beams
Flattening filter free (FFF) linear accelerators can increase treatment efficiency and plan quality. There are multiple methods of defining a FFF beam. The Elekta control system supports tuning of the delivered FFF beam energy to enable matching of the percentage depth-dose (PDD) of the flattened beam at 10 cm depth. This is compared to FFF beams where the linac control parameters are identical to those for the flattened beam. All beams were delivered on an Elekta Synergy accelerator with an Agility multi-leaf collimator installed and compared to the standard, flattened beam. The aim of this study is to compare “matched” FFF beams to both “unmatched” FFF beams and flattened beams to determine the benefits of matching beams.
For the three modes of operation 6 MV flattened, 6 MV matched FFF, 6 MV unmatched FFF, 10 MV flattened, 10 MV matched FFF, and 10 MV unmatched FFF beam profiles were obtained using a plotting tank and were measured in steps of 0.1 mm in the penumbral region. Beam penumbra was defined as the distance between the 80% and 20% of the normalized dose when the inflection points of the unflattened and flattened profiles were normalized with the central axis dose of the flattened field set as 100%. PDD data was obtained at field sizes ranging from 3 cm × 3 cm to 40 cm × 40 cm. Radiation protection measurements were additionally performed to determine the head leakage and environmental monitoring through the maze and primary barriers.
No significant change is made to the beam penumbra for FFF beams with and without PDD matching, the maximum change in penumbra for a 10 cm × 10 cm field was within the experimental error of the study. The changes in the profile shape with increasing field size are most significant for the matched FFF beam, and both FFF beams showed less profile shape variation with increasing depth when compared to flattened beams, due to consistency in beam energy spectra across the radiation field. The PDDs of the FFF beams showed less variation with field size, the dmax value was deeper for the matched FFF beam than the FFF beam and deeper than the flattened beam for field sizes greater than 5 cm × 5 cm. The head leakage when using the machine in FFF mode is less than half that for a flattened beam, but comparable for both FFF modes. The radiation protection dose-rate measurements show an increase of instantaneous dose-rates when operating the machines in FFF mode but that increase is less than the ratio of MU/min produced by the machine.
The matching of a FFF beam to a flattened beam at a depth of 10 cm in water by increasing the FFF beam energy does not reduce any of the reported benefits of FFF beams. Conversely, there are a number of potential benefits resulting from matching the FFF beam; the depth of maximum dose is deeper, the out of field dose is potentially reduced, and the beam quality and penetration more closely resembles the flattened beams currently used in clinical practice, making dose distributions in water more alike. Highlighted in this work is the fact that some conventional specifications and methods for measurement of beam parameters such as penumbra are not relevant and further work is required to address this situation with respect to “matched” FFF beams and to determine methods of measurement that are not reliant on an associated flattened beam.