This ongoing project aims at contributing to the improvement in the radiation therapy treatments, with visible results in the patients’ quality of life during and after treatments.
It is a strongly interdisciplinary and applied project, bringing together researchers with very different scientific backgrounds: computer science, mathematics, operations research, medical physicists. Our clinical partner is the Portuguese Oncology Institute of Coimbra (Instituto Português de Oncologia de Coimbra Francisco Gentil - IPOC).
More than half of the cancer patients are submitted to a radiation therapy sometime during the treatment process. Radiation therapy consists in treating cancerous tissues using radiation and having as goal the destruction of cancerous cells while preserving healthy cells. The treatment plan is based on the patient’s CT images, where the medical doctor delineates the areas to treat and the healthy organs that should be spared. The medical physicist is then responsible for planning the delivery of the treatment. Radiation therapy is delivered with the patient immobilized on a couch that can rotate. Typically, radiation is generated by a linear accelerator mounted on a gantry that can rotate along a central axis. The rotation of the couch combined with the rotation of the gantry allows radiation from almost any angle around the tumor. In clinical practice, most of the times, the treatment planning is a lengthy and complex trial and error process, very dependent on the planner’s experience and time availability.
This project will contribute to the automation of this process, by developing mathematical models and optimization algorithms bearing in mind the limited computational resources available in treatment institutions.
The results obtained so far, considering retrospective treated head and neck cancer patients, are encouraging especially regarding a clear improvement in the parotids sparing with a consequent reduction of side effects like lack of saliva and lack of appetite (two of the main complaints of these patients).
The final aim of this project is to be able to incorporate the developments made in the clinical practice.