On the significance of density-induced speed of sound variations on US-guided radiotherapy

Davide Fontanarosa, Skadi van der Meer, Frank Verhaegen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: To show the effect of speed of sound (SOS) aberration on ultrasound guided radiotherapy (US-gRT) as a function of implemented workflow. US systems assume that SOS is constant in human soft tissues (at a value of 1540 m/s), while its actual nonuniform distribution produces small but systematic errors of up to a few millimeters in the positions of scanned structures. When a coregistered computerized tomography (CT) scan is available, the US image can be corrected for SOS aberration. Typically, image guided radiotherapy workflows implementing US systems only provide a CT scan at the simulation (SIM) stage. If changes occur in geometry or density distribution between SIM and treatment (TX) stage, SOS aberration can change accordingly, with a final impact on the measured position of structures which is dependent on the workflow adopted. Methods: Four basic scenarios were considered of possible changes between SIM and TX: (1) No changes, (2) only patient position changes (rigid rotation-translation), (3) only US transducer position changes (constrained on patient's surface), and (4) patient tissues thickness changes. Different SOS aberrations may arise from the different scenarios, according to the specific US-gRT workflow used: intermodality (INTER) where TX US scans are compared to SIM CT scans; intramodality (INTRA) where TX US scans are compared to SIM US scans; and INTERc and INTRAc where all US images are corrected for SOS aberration (using density information provided by SIM CT). For an experimental proof of principle, the effect of tissues thickness change was simulated in the different workflows: a dual layered phantom was filled with layers of sunflower oil (SOS 1478 m/s), water (SOS 1482 m/s), and 20% saline solution (SOS 1700 m/s). The phantom was US scanned, the layer thicknesses were increased and the US scans were repeated. The errors resulting from the different workflows were compared. Results: Theoretical considerations show that workflows implementing SOS correction based on SIM-CT scan (INTERc, INTRAc) give null errors in all scenarios except when tissues thickness changes, where an error proportional to the degree of change in SOS maps between SIM and TX ((Delta) under bar SOS) occurs. An uncorrected workflow such as INTER produces in all scenarios a pure SOS error, while uncorrected INTRA produces a null error for rotation-translation of the patient, a (Delta) under bar SOS error for changing tissues thickness and an error proportional to the degree of SOS distribution change along the different lines of view when shifting the transducer. The dual layered phantom demonstrated experimentally that the effect of SOS change between SIM and TX is clinically nonrelevant, being less than the intrinsic resolution of imaging systems, even when a substantial change in thicknesses is applied, provided that a SIM-CT-based SOS aberration correction is applied. Noncorrected workflows produce errors up to 4 mm for INTER and to 3 mm for INTRA in the phantom test. Conclusions: A SOS correction is advantageous for all US-gRT workflows and clinical cases, where the effect of SOS change can be considered a second order effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6316-6323
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • ultrasound imaging
  • CT imaging
  • speed of sound
  • radiotherapy
  • IGRT
  • distance error

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