Rectum contouring variability in patients treated for prostate cancer: Impact on rectum dose-volume histograms and normal tissue complication probability

Claudio Fiorino, Vittorio Vavassori, Giuseppe Sanguineti, Carla Bianchi, Giovanni Mauro Cattaneo, Anna Piazzolla, Cesare Cozzarini

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Background: Recent investigations showed some correlation between three-dimensional (3D) treatment planning dose-volume data (dose-volume histograms: DVH, dose statistics) and rectal toxicity for patients treated for prostate cancer. However, no data are available about the possible impact of inter-institute variability in contouring the rectum, so that the possibility of reliably using information from single-centre studies remains doubtful. Purpose: Within a retrospective three-institutes study on correlation between dose-volume treatment planning data and rectum bleeding in patients treated for prostate cancer, an investigation about the impact of inter- and intra-observer variability in contouring the rectum was performed. Materials and methods: Ten patients were considered for a dummy run exercise and three observers (one per Institute) contoured the rectum (including filling). An anatomically based definition of rectum extension was previously accepted by the three observers. Six of the ten patients were randomly chosen in the subgroup of patients (large spacing, LS) with a distance between computed tomography (CT) slices (outside the prostate region) equal to 10 mm; for the remaining four patients the distance between CT slices was 5 mm over the whole rectum volume (small spacing, SS). The original 3D treatment planning was recovered on the Cadplan treatment planning system for each patient and rectum dose statistics (mean, median and maximum rectum dose), volume, DVH and NTCP values were calculated for each observer. For DVH analysis, the values of V50, V55, V60, V65 and V70 (defined as the % of rectum volume receiving at least 50, 55, 60, 65, 70 Gy) were considered. Normal tissue complication probabilities (NTCPs) were calculated for the original ICRU dose and for a 75.6 Gy ICRU dose (NTCP and NTCP75.6, respectively). Intra-observer variability was investigated by asking the observers to redraw the same rectum contours 6 months later and comparing the two contouring sessions. Results: In general, a good agreement was found for most patients and, in particular, for all SS patients. The impact of inter-observer variability was quite significant on dose statistics and DVH in two of six LS patients. Looking at the patient population, some systematic deviations, even if quite small, were demonstrated between institute B and institute C (volume, P=0.02) and between institute A and institute B (mean/median dose, V50-V65, NTCP75.6; P50-V70. The average SD for NTCP and NTCP75.6 were 0.4 and 0.6%, respectively (0.5 and 0.9% for LS patients; 0.2 and 0.3% for SS patients). Intra-observer variability was found to be lower than inter-observer variability even if the impact on dose statistics and DVH was visible. Conclusions: Once a robust definition of rectum is assessed, inter- and intra-institute variability in contouring the rectum appear relatively modest. However, the results suggest that the number of LS patients in DVH correlation studies should be as low as possible; the low number of these patients in the multi-centric trial involving our institutions should not have significant impact on the results of the study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-255
Number of pages7
JournalRadiotherapy and Oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Dose-volume histogram
  • Inter-observer variability
  • Normal tissue complication probability
  • Rectal toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Urology


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