Over 50% of cancer patients require radiation therapy (RT). RT is an optimization problem requiring maximization of the radiation damage to the tumor while minimizing the harm to the healthy tissues. This dissertation focuses on two main RT optimization problems: 1) brachytherapy and 2) intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).
The brachytherapy research involved solving a non-convex optimization problem by creating an open-source genetic algorithm optimizer to determine the optimal radioactive seed distribution for a given set of patient volumes and constraints, both dosimetric- and implant-based. The optimizer was tested for a set of 45 prostate brachytherapy patients. While all solutions met the clinical standards, they also benchmarked favorably with those generated by a standard commercial solver. Compared to its compatriot, the salient features of the generated solutions were: slightly reduced prostate coverage, lower dose to the urethra and rectum, and a smaller number of needles required for an implant.
Historically, IMRT requires modulation of fluence while keeping the photon beam energy fixed. The IMRT-related investigation in this thesis aimed at broadening the solution space by varying photon energy. The problem therefore involved simultaneous optimization of photon beamlet energy and fluence, denoted by XMRT. Formulating the problem as convex, linear programming was applied to obtain solutions for optimal energy-dependent fluences, while achieving all clinical objectives and constraints imposed. Dosimetric advantages of XMRT over single-energy IMRT in the improved sparing of organs at risk (OARs) was demonstrated in simplified phantom studies. The XMRT algorithm was improved to include clinical dose-volume constraints and clinical studies for prostate and head and neck cancer patients were investigated. Compared to IMRT, XMRT provided improved dosimetric benefit in the prostate case, particularly within intermediate- to low-dose regions (≤ 40 Gy) for OARs. For head and neck cases, XMRT solutions showed no significant disadvantage or advantage over IMRT. The deliverability concerns for the fluence maps generated from XMRT were addressed by incorporating smoothing constraints during the optimization and through successful generation of treatment machine files. Further research is needed to explore the full potential of the XMRT approach to RT.