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PII: S0031-9155(00)09205-8

Carlo photon dose calculation using XVMC

Iwan Kawrakow and Matthias Fippel

Institute for National Measurement Standards, National Research Council, Ottawa,

Ontario K1A 0R6, Canada

Received 1 November 1999

Abstract. Several variance reduction techniques, such as photon splitting, electron history

repetition, Russian roulette and the use of quasi-random numbers are investigated and shown to

significantly improve the efficiency of the recently developed XVMC Monte Carlo code for photon

beams in radiation therapy. It is demonstrated that it is possible to further improve the efficiency

by optimizing transport parameters such as electron energy cut-off, maximum electron energy step

size, photon energy cut-off and a cut-off for kerma approximation, without loss of calculation

accuracy. These methods increase the efficiency by a factor of up to 10 compared with the initial

XVMC ray-tracing technique or a factor of 50 to 80 compared with EGS4/PRESTA. Therefore, a

common treatment plan (6 MV photons, 1010 cm2 field size, 5 mm voxel resolution, 1% statistical

uncertainty) can be calculated within 7 min using a single CPU 500 MHz personal computer. If

the requirement on the statistical uncertainty is relaxed to 2%, the calculation time will be less

than 2 min. In addition, a technique is presented which allows for the quantitative comparison of

Monte Carlo calculated dose distributions and the separation of systematic and statistical errors.

Employing this technique it is shown that XVMC calculations agree with EGSnrc on a sub-per cent

level for simulations in the energy and material range of interest for radiation therapy.

1. Introduction

The uncertainty of semianalytical dose calculation procedures for external beam photon

radiotherapy (e.g. Mackie et al 1985, Ahnesjo et al 1987) is mainly given by the approximations

used. This uncertainty can be decreased by implementing more accurate physical models. This,

however, generally leads to longer calculation times. On the other hand, the accuracy of Monte

Carlo (MC) dose calculation (e.g. Nelson et al 1985) is mainly restricted by the statistical noise,

because the influence of MC model approximations should be much smaller. This statistical

noise can be decreased by a larger number of histories leading to longer calculation times as

well. However, there are a variety of methods to decrease the statistical fluctuations of MC

calculations without increasing the number of particle histories. These techniques are known

as variance reduction (Bielajew and Rogers 1988).

This paper deals with some of these techniques to decrease the variance of the recently

developed XVMC photon dose calculation code (Fippel 1999, henceforth referred to as paper I).

An experimental investigation of this code has been performed by Fippel et al (1999).

In the next section the variance reduction techniques as well as the methods of

implementation are described. In section 3 the influence of these methods is tested with regards

Permanent address: Abteilung fur Medizinische Physik, Radiologische Universitatsklinik, Hoppe-Seyler-Strasse 3,

72076 Tubingen, Germany.

0031-9155/00/082163+21$30.00

2163

2164

to dose, calculation time and statistical fluctuations. The results are discussed in section 4 and

summarized in section 5.

2. Methods

2.1. XVMC improvements

In the course of the investigations presented here we have implemented a series of

improvements into the XVMC algorithm concerning the modelling of the underlying scattering

processes. Although in many (but not all) cases these improvements had a negligible effect

on the calculated dose distributions, their effect on the calculation time was also negligible or

very small and so it was concluded that it is worthwhile to keep these improvements in the

final version of the code. A short description of these improvements is given below:

(a) Photoelectric absorption was neglected in the original XVMC version (see paper I).

As atomic relaxations play no role in the energy and material range of interest, the

photoelectric effect is fairly simple and is therefore now implemented into XVMC. Total

photoelectric cross sections are taken from the International Committee for Radiological

Units tabulations (ICRU 1992). The inclusion of photoelectric absorption has a small, subper cent effect on calculated dose distributions for energies of 12 MeV and is entirely

negligible for higher energies.

(b) In the original VMC version (see Kawrakow et al 1996) Mller scattering was

approximated by the leading term 1/E 2 (E is the energy of the delta particle). This

approximation is now removed and replaced by sampling from the exact Mller cross

section (Mller 1932) but found not to have any effect on the calculated dose distributions.

(c) In the original VMC version the energy distribution of bremsstrahlung photons was

modelled by the leading 1/k dependence only. This approximation is now removed and

replaced by sampling from the BetheHeitler cross section (see e.g. equation (2.7.7) in

Nelson et al (1985)). Again, no effect on the calculated dose distributions was observed.

(d) In the original VMC version for electron beams, bremsstrahlung photons were produced

but then immediately discarded. After the simulation the dose distribution was corrected

for photon background for both contaminant photons from the accelerator and photons

produced in the phantom. This approximation was found to cause about 1% dose underprediction for high-energy photon beams and is therefore removed. The associated 10%

increase in CPU time can be cancelled by the use of the Russian roulette technique (see

sections 2.4.4 and 4.2).

An additional modification concerns the treatment of track-ends. In the original XVMC

version, electrons with energies below the threshold transport energy were deposited locally.

During the course of the investigations described here we have implemented a new approach

according to which track-end electrons are transported by their residual range as a normal

condensed history step. This modification increases the CPU time by 1025% but allows for

the use of higher cut-off energies (see sections 2.5.4 and 3.2). The use of a higher electron cutoff energy more than offsets the reduction of calculation speed due to the modified treatment

of track-ends.

2.2. Phantom

The investigations are performed on the basis of a 202030 cm3 phantom consisting of water

(density: = 1.0 g cm3 ) with inflated lung ( = 0.26 g cm3 , dimension: 8 4 15 cm3 )

2165

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the phantom and irradiation geometry used to perform the

efficiency tests. See text for more details.

and bone ( = 1.85 g cm3 , dimension: 4 4 5 cm3 ) substitutes (see figure 1). These

materials are selected because they cover the usual mass density and atomic number range

encountered in tissues relevant for radiation therapy. The inhomogeneities begin at a depth of

z = 5 cm and they are centred with respect to the beam axis. The voxel resolution is 0.5 cm

for the three directions. The irradiation is simulated using 2 MeV and 10 MeV monoenergetic

photon beams and one beam with an energy distribution of 6 MV. A point source beam with

field size 10 10 cm2 and a sourcesurface distance of 100 cm is used to estimate the initial

photon fluence. The use of such a simple source is motivated by the desire to separate issues

related to the accurate modelling of photon beams in radiation therapy from the influence of

various reduction techniques on the calculation efficiency, which is the main topic of this paper.

The efficiency of an MC simulation is given by (e.g. Bielajew and Rogers 1988):

=

1

s2T

(1)

where s and T are the statistical uncertainty and CPU time respectively. Application of

(1) is straightforward for the calculation of a single quantity. In the case of the calculation

of a three-dimensional dose distribution Dij k for use in radiation treatment planning, the

statistical uncertainties
Dij k must be mapped into a single number in order to employ (1).

One possibility to accomplish this task is to introduce a function F (Dij k ) which measures

the relative importance of the knowledge of the dose in the voxel (ij k). Such a function

could be, for instance, a cost function associated with a treatment plan optimization procedure.

The efficiency of the MC simulation can then be measured using the statistical uncertainty

2166

of F (Dij k ), i.e.

F 2

s
F =

Dij2 k

Dij k

ij k

F

F

+2

(Dij k Di j k Dij k Di j k ).

D

D

ij k

i j k

ij k i j k =ij k

2

(2)

If the doses in different voxels are uncorrelated, the double sum cancels out and s 2 is simply

the weighted sum of the statistical uncertainties squared. It is then clear that s can also

be constructed from the statistical uncertainties directly, without the involvement of a cost

function. In the present study we are interested in an overall efficiency and employ throughout

the paper the average statistical uncertainty in all voxels with a dose larger than % of the

maximum dose Dmax as a measure of the overall uncertainty, i.e.

Dij k

1

s =

(3)

N Dij k >%Dmax Dmax

where N is the number of voxels satisfying the condition Dij k > %Dmax . The choice to

normalize with respect to Dmax (instead of Dij k ) is motivated by the generally accepted accuracy

requirements of dose calculation algorithms which are expressed in percentage deviation from

the maximum dose (Brahme et al 1988). Values of = 20, 50 and 90 are used in this

investigation. The corresponding efficiencies are denoted by 20 , 50 and 90 respectively.

By dividing the simulation into Nbatch batches the statistical uncertainties were calculated

according to

Dij2 k =

Dij2 k Dij k 2

Nbatch 1

(4)

where Dij k is the average dose and Dij2 k the average dose squared. For the investigations

described in this paper the number of batches is Nbatch = 10.

2.4. Variance reduction techniques

In general, the efficiency of MC simulations can be increased by (a) reducing the variance

or (b) reducing the CPU time per particle simulated. Techniques leading to efficiency

increase, although not always associated with variance reduction, are called variance reduction

techniques (VRT, see e.g. Bielajew and Rogers (1988)).

Decrease of the variance per particle simulated can be achieved, for instance, by a uniform

distribution of the primary interaction sites of the incoming photon beam or by increasing the

importance of particles with a large influence on the dose. Reduction of the CPU time per

particle history is possible by reusing certain quantities, particle splitting, interaction forcing,

etc.

In the following sections various variance reduction techniques will be discussed and their

influence on the simulation efficiency presented.

2.4.1. Interaction forcing. If the number of mean-free paths (MFP) to the next photon

interaction site is larger than the phantom thickness, the photon will leave the geometry of

interest without interacting and depositing energy. The occurrence of such events cannot be

predicted in advance and therefore the photon must be traced through the geometry performing

all associated arithmetic operations (calculation of the distance to the next region boundary

and the total attenuation coefficient in the current region) until it escapes the phantom. The

2167

CPU time spent on the transport of escaping photons is then wasted. If the fraction of escaping

photons is very large, the simulation will be very inefficient.

Interaction forcing is a technique that attempts to improve the efficiency by taking into

account only the fraction of photons that interact in the phantom. In the usual implementation

the particle is first traced through the geometry and the total number of MFPs, , is calculated.

The actual number of MFPs is then sampled from

= ln[1 (1 e )]

(5)

( is a uniformly distributed random number between zero and unity) and the photon weight

modified by the factor 1 exp(). Interaction forcing will improve the efficiency if the CPU

time tIF spent per interaction is less than the time tnF spent per interaction in the no forcing

situation. Let t0 be the CPU time necessary to trace the photon through the entire geometry.

As this time is proportional to the number of voxels passed, the time necessary to transport a

photon by MFPs will be t0 / for and t0 for in the no-forcing case. Averaging

this time for all photons gives

t0

t0

d e + t0

d e = (1 e ).

(6)

0

Division of the above equation by the fraction of interacting photons [1 exp()] leads to

tnF , i.e.

t0

(7)

tnF = .

In the case of interaction forcing the time necessary is the sum of the time for the initial tracing

and the time necessary to transport to the actual interaction site, i.e. t0 + t0 / for

and 0 for > . Again, averaging for all photons and division by the fraction of interacting

photons provides tIF , i.e.

tIF =

t0 1 + (1 + 2) exp()

.

1 exp()

(8)

A simple calculation shows that tIF < tnF if < ln 2. For a phantom consisting of 25 cm

of water, for instance, this condition is satisfied only for photons with an energy larger than

6 MeV. In addition, the use of interaction forcing in an inhomogeneous phantom introduces

additional statistical fluctuations because the weights of particles passing through different

regions vary. The situation can be somewhat improved if, after calculating , the photon is

split into Nsplit identical photons, each with the weight 1/Nsplit , and the knowledge of is

reused Nsplit times. In this case interaction forcing is faster if

< ln(1 + Nsplit ).

(9)

Numerical experiments show, however, that the splitting technique discussed in section 2.4.6

is substantially more efficient.

2.4.2. Initial calculation of the primary interaction density. This method has been introduced

already in paper I. During a preprocessing step, taking only 1 to 5 s of CPU time, the number

of primary photon interactions in each voxel is calculated by ray tracing. The MC simulation

proceeds then by starting the given number of scattered photon and electron histories from

each voxel. This technique increases the simulation efficiency by reducing the variance of the

primary interaction sites and by saving CPU time for the ray tracing of the primary photons.

As shown in paper I the efficiency improvement is of the order of a factor of two compared

with an MC simulation without any VRT.

2168

The main disadvantage of this method is that it limits the applicability of the code to

relatively simple sources, such as point sources or parallel beams (where the primary interaction

density can easily be calculated). Use with phase space files is not possible. The initial

ray tracing technique could be employed in connection with beam characterization models

provided that the models were simple enough or a mixed procedure is implemented, which

includes direct simulation for the source fractions for which the precalculation of the primary

interaction density is difficult or not possible. In either case the flexibility of the code will

be reduced and the subdivision of the calculation process into an accelerator-specific and a

patient-specific part made difficult or impossible.

We shall see in the subsequent sections that a comparable or even better efficiency is

achievable with other VRTs that do not restrict the generality of the code.

2.4.3. Sobol random numbers. Consider a photon with energy E0 and direction u

0 entering

the phantom at a position x

0 . To simplify the notation in the following equations we assume

that the photon interacts with the phantom via the Compton process only, generalization to the

situation with pair production and photoelectric absorption is straightforward. The dose D(

x)

deposited by this photon at x

is

D(E0 , x

0 , u

0 , x

) = dtP (

x0 , u

0 , t) dE d(E0 , E)Ds (E0 , E, , x

1 , x

)

(10)

where P (

x0 , u

0 , t) is the probability for an interaction at a distance t from the entry point

t

P (

x0 , u

0 , t) = (

x0 + u

0 t) exp

dt (

x0 + u

0 t ) .

(11)

0

(E0 , E) is the Compton scattering differential cross section normalized to unity, is the

azimuthal scattering angle, x

1 = x

0 + u

0 t the interaction position and the linear attenuation

coefficient. Ds denotes the dose deposited at x

by the scattered particles set in motion at

x

1 . This dose can be split into a Compton electron component, De (E0 E, x

1 , u

1,e , x

), and

a scattered photon component, D (E, x

1 , u

1, , x

) (

u1,e and u

1, are the directions resulting

from u

0 , and the polar angle corresponding to the scattering E0 E). The latter can be

written in a form analogous to (10), i.e.

D (E, x

1 , u

1, , x

) = dt P (

x1 , u

1 , t ) dE d (E, E )Ds (E, E , x

2 , x

).

(12)

In addition, to calculate the total dose D(

0 , u

0 , x

) with the

five-dimensional function F (E0 , x

0 , u

0 ) describing the source. It then becomes clear that a

series of d = (5+3n)-dimensional integration has to be carried out in order to perform a photon

dose calculation, where n = 1, 2, 3, . . . is the order of scattering. If the relative contributions

from the various order of scattering terms and the number of photons to be simulated are

known in advance, some of these integrations could be carried out with deterministic methods,

reducing in this way the variance of the simulation. It can be anticipated that in most practical

situations the goal of the MC simulation is to calculate the dose distribution to a desired

statistical uncertainty rather than using a given number of photon histories. A deterministic

integration is then not possible. Note also that Monte Carlo integration techniques frequently

outperform deterministic integrations for high-dimensional problems. The knowledge of the

dimensionality of the problem, however, can be employed in connection with so called quasirandom numbers to improve the efficiency of MC simulations.

Sequences of d-tuples that fill d-dimensional space more uniformly than uncorrelated

pseudo-random numbers are called quasi-random sequences. These sequences are known to

substantially improve the integration efficiency in certain type of problems. For a general

2169

discussion of quasi-random numbers we refer the reader to Press et al (1997) and references

therein.

For the investigations presented here, we implemented into XVMC a Sobol quasi-random

number generator for up to d = 12 dimensions. To determine how these quasi-random numbers

influence the efficiency, we replaced some of the pseudo random numbers by Sobol sequences.

We started by replacing the two random numbers providing the starting position of the primary

photon (note that a simple point source was used in this study, see section 2.2). The third Sobol

number samples the number of mean-free paths to the first-order interaction. A fourth number

returns the interaction type (Compton scattering, pair production or photoelectric absorption)

and a fifth number selects the azimuthal scattering angle. The next Sobol number is taken to

choose the Compton or pair electron energy. Furthermore, it is possible to pass these numbers

to secondary photons also. In this case all 12 Sobol numbers have been used.

2.4.4. Russian roulette. Approximately 50% of CPU time is consumed to track secondary

and higher-order photons and the electrons they set in motion. It is possible to remove a part

of these photons by Russian roulette. That is, such photons are simulated only if a uniformly

distributed random number between 0 and 1 is smaller than the value 1/fweight specified by the

user. In this case the weight of the photon must be increased by the factor fweight . Application

of Russian roulette to scattered photons reduces the CPU time but introduces an additional

source of variance (because of varying weights). It is therefore not a priori clear whether this

technique increases the efficiency.

2.4.5. Woodcock tracing. The main advantage of the so-called Woodcock technique (Lux and

Koblinger 1991), also known as fictitious interaction method (Nelson et al 1985, pp 16, 17),

is that the time-consuming photon ray tracing through the heterogeneous geometry is not

necessary. The maximum cross section max (E) of the whole treatment volume must be

known for this technique. According to paper I this is the cross section for the voxel

with maximum density. Therefore, for a given photon energy E, max (E) can be easily

calculated by equations (2) and (3) of paper I. The simulation is then performed in a cube

with uniform attenuation max (E), i.e. in each voxel a fictitious interaction with cross

section max (E) (, E) is added. Because the geometry is homogeneous with respect

to attenuation, the photons can be transported without ray tracing. Once at the interaction

site, the interaction type is sampled (Compton, pair, photoelectric absorption or the fictitious

interaction). In the case of a fictitious interaction, photon energy and direction are left

unchanged and the process repeated. In the case of a real interaction, secondary particles

are simulatedCompton photons by Woodcock tracing again, electrons and positrons by the

usual electron MC.

For the investigations presented here, this technique was slightly modified in an attempt to

increase its efficiency. This is realized by having the photon interact every time. Therefore, the

weight of the secondary charged particles must be changed by the factor (, E)/max (E).

The Russian roulette technique is employed with fweight = (, E)/max (E) for the scattered

Compton photon and with fweight = 1 (, E)/max (E) for the remaining original photon,

leading in both cases to the original photon weight.

A further efficiency gain for this technique can be achieved by using Sobol random

numbers.

2.4.6. Photon splitting and electron history repetition. One important feature of the VMC

electron beam Monte Carlo code (Kawrakow et al 1996) is the history repetition technique.

2170

This technique doubles the efficiency of electron dose calculation by reusing a precalculated

history in water. The starting positions and directions of the recycled electrons are different

when they are applied to the patient geometry. In combination with photon splitting, this

technique can also be used for photon Monte Carlo. For this purpose the photon is split into

nsplit subphotons, each of them carrying a weight of 1/nsplit . The effective distance zeff (E)

(distance in water, see paper I) of the first subphoton to the interaction point is then sampled

by:

z1eff (E) =

1

ln(1 1 )

w (E)

1 =

nsplit

(13)

with w (E) and being the total attenuation coefficient in water and a uniformly distributed

random number between 0 and 1 respectively. Accordingly, the path length of the ith subphoton

is sampled by:

zieff (E) =

1

ln(1 i )

w (E)

i = 1 +

i1

.

nsplit

(14)

In this manner only one random number is necessary to get a scattered depth distribution

of several interaction points. All secondary particles (photons, electrons, positrons) carry a

weight of 1/nsplit . The Monte Carlo simulation is then performed by repeating the following

steps:

eff

(a) Photon trace from zi1

to zieff (for the primary photon and i = 1 trace from the cube

surface to z1eff ) through the inhomogeneous voxel geometry.

(b) Sample interaction type (Compton scattering, pair production or photoelectric absorption).

(c) When Compton scattering happens for the first time, sample the scattered particles energy

and direction, create a Compton electron history in water and store the parameters.

(d) When a pair production happens for the first time, sample the electrons and positrons

energy and direction, create two further electron histories in water and store the parameters.

(e) When a photoelectric absorption happens for the first time, sample the photoelectron

direction, create a corresponding particle history in water and store the parameters.

(f) Apply the electron history or histories to the patient geometry starting at the ith interaction

point.

(g) In the case of Compton scattering, play Russian roulette with the secondary photon using

the probability 1/nsplit and store its parameters if it survives.

(h) Take the next subphoton (i.e. i = i + 1, go to step (a)).

This procedure stops when the cube boundary is reached or i = nsplit . Then, the remaining

Compton photons are simulated by executing this subroutine recursively. For the investigations

described here, nsplit has been varied between 1 and 100 to find an optimum value. Furthermore,

Sobol random numbers are used whenever possible.

Note that the algorithm given by (a)(h) corresponds to changing the order of the t and

E integrations in (10). This is possible because for the energy and material range of interest

the differential Compton scattering and pair production cross sections are independent of the

material. Note also that the above algorithm reduces the variance of the primary and higherorder scattering interaction sites. In addition it is the fastest photon splitting technique, as only

one tracing through the geometry is required. The CPU time is also reduced because of reusing

various sampled quantities (scattered particles energies and directions and electron histories).

2171

The accuracy and speed of coupled electronphoton transport MC simulations depends

crucially on the selection of various transport parameters such as particle transport cut-off

energies, particle production threshold energies and condensed history electron step-sizes.

The influence of these parameters has been investigated to find optimum parameters that

give an acceptable accuracy. The procedure employed for a quantitative comparison between

distributions corrupted by a statistical noise is described in the next subsection.

2.5.1. Comparisons between MC calculated dose distributions. All XVMC dose calculations

presented in section 3 have been benchmarked against EGSnrc (Kawrakow 2000a) calculations.

EGSnrc is an improved version of the popular EGS4 system (Nelson et al 1985) that

incorporates a series of improvements in the implementation of the condensed history

technique and was shown to allow for an accurate and artefact-free Monte Carlo simulation of

coupled electron photon transport at the 0.1% level beyond uncertainties in the cross sections

(Kawrakow 2000b).

A quantitative comparison between MC calculated dose distributions is not a

straightforward task. If one takes, for instance, the maximum difference found as a measure

for the agreement, there is no separation between stochastic and systematic deviations. The

probability p(y, N) to find a difference of y standard deviations in at least one out of N voxels

is

y N

p(y, N) = 1 Erf

(15)

2

even if the differences are purely statistical (Erf is the error function). In the situations

investigated in this paper there are of the order of 25 000 voxels with a significant dose.

We have then p(3, 25 000) = 1, p(4, 25 000) = 0.793, p(5, 25 000) = 0.025, i.e. even the

probability for five standard deviations is non-vanishing! We have therefore adopted the

procedure described below for a quantitative comparisons between EGSnrc and VMC.

Let xij k

xij k =

DijXVMC

DijEGSnrc

k

k

(16)

Dij k

be the dose difference in the voxel ij k measured in units of the combined statistical uncertainty

Dij k . If the differences were purely statistical, the probability distribution f (x) to find a

voxel with a deviation given by x would be a Gaussian. If this distribution is not Gaussian,

there are systematic differences between the two dose distributions. To separate systematic

errors from statistical fluctuations we write xij k = yij k + zij k where yij k is the statistical part

and zij k the systematic part of the difference. If we now calculate the moments x n ,

1

x n =

(xij k )n

(17)

N ij k

and use the known expressions for the moments of a Gaussian distribution, we can obtain the

moments of the distribution g(z) which gives the probability to find a voxel with a systematic

deviation z. One has, for instance

x = z

x 2 = 1 + z2

x 3 = 3z + z3

n

x 4 = 3 + 6z2 + z4 .

(18)

of the distribution g(z). In practical applications, we have used only the first four moments

because, given the finite number of voxels available, the uncertainties on even higher-order

2172

moments become comparable with the moments themselves. The simplest possible ansatz for

a distribution which is completely determined by its first four moments is

g(z) = 1 (z
1 ) + 2 (z
2 ) + (1 1 2 )(z)

(19)

i.e. a fraction 1 of all voxels has a systematic deviation
1 and a fraction 2 a systematic

deviation
2 (measured in units of the statistical uncertainty), the remaining 1 1 2

voxels show no systematic deviations. Here, is Diracs delta function. The parameters

1 , 2 ,
1 ,
2 are determined from the equation system

1
1 + 2
2 = z

1
21 + 2
22 = z2

4

1
1 + 2
42 = z4 .

1
31 + 2
32 = z3

(20)

With this simple ansatz, the probability distribution f (x) to find a voxel with a deviation x is

given by

1

(x
1 )2

(x
2 )2

f (x) =

+ 2 exp

1 exp

2

2

2

2

x

+(1 1 2 ) exp

.

(21)

2

We shall see in section 3.2 that (21) gives a very good representation of the observed difference

distribution.

2.5.2. Variation of Pcut . Pcut is the photon energy cut-off parameter. It means, if a scattered

photon is created with an energy less than Pcut that the photon will not be transported but the

energy deposited locally. The smaller Pcut the more accurate are the results. There are two

possible criteria for selecting Pcut : (a) the MFP of photons with energy equal or less than Pcut is

small compared with the voxel sizes or (b) the energy fraction carried by photons with energy

less than Pcut is negligible compared with the energy fraction deposited. In the latter case, the

energy of cut-off photons can be deposited locally or ignored altogether. In terms of efficiency

considerations it is clear that the higher Pcut is selected the shorter the CPU time will be. On

the other hand, too a high Pcut may become a source of additional statistical fluctuations if it

becomes comparable or even bigger than the average energy deposited by electrons.

2.5.3. Kerma approximation. The energy released by low energetic photons is deposited

near the photon path. Therefore, it is possible to switch off the electron transport (kerma

approximation). These photons are transported from one interaction point to the next by ray

tracing. In each voxel (mass density ) along its path the photon deposits the dose:

Dij k = Een (, E)
sij k ,

(22)

with en (, E) being the energy absorption coefficient and
sij k the path-length in the voxel

ij k. The energy absorption coefficient for mass density can be calculated from the energy

absorption coefficient in water, the latter being taken from ICRU (1992), by employing the

interaction cross-section scaling functions discussed in paper I. After reaching the interaction

point and sampling the interaction parameters, the resulting scattered photons are transported

again by this method if the energy is above Pcut .

We have applied the kerma approximation only to secondary or higher-order photons.

Furthermore, we have introduced a kerma cut-off energy Kcut , i.e. only secondary photons

with energy below Kcut are approximated in this manner, high-energy photons are transported

normally. For this investigation we started without kerma approximation, i.e. Kcut = 0, and

varied Kcut = 0 to infinity (i.e. all scattered photons transported in kerma approximation).

2173

2.5.4. Electron cut-off energy. In VMC the secondary electron production threshold energy

and the transport cut-off energy are identical and are denoted by Ecut . A speed-up of the

whole simulation can be realized by increasing Ecut because fewer secondary electrons are

produced and also because electrons need, on average, fewer condensed history steps until

local absorption. The range of cut-off electrons should be small compared with the voxel

size. Contrary to the popular EGS4 system (Nelson et al 1985), where the energy of track-end

electrons is deposited locally, in XVMC track-end electrons are now transported on straight

lines by their range. This approach avoids strong statistical fluctuations when low-density

materials (air, lung) are involved in the simulation.

Generally, it is difficult to derive precise limits on acceptable electron cut-off energies

from theoretical considerations. We have therefore studied the Ecut influence on accuracy and

speed to determine optimum values for radiation therapy type calculations. The starting value

for Ecut was 200 keV kinetic energy which has a residual range of 0.45 mm in water.

2.5.5. Condensed history step-sizes. As in EGS4, a Class II condensed history algorithm is

used in VMC to simulate electron transport (see Berger (1963) which introduces the technique

and coins the terminology). An important parameter in condensed history MC electron

algorithms is the step size (or the procedure used to determine the actual step size depending

on energy, material, geometry, etc). Step sizes in the original VMC implementation were

optimized for electron beams in the radiation therapy range (650 MeV). In this investigation

we have re-examined the step-size restrictions and studied the influence of the Estep parameter

(maximum fractional energy loss per step) on the calculation accuracy and efficiency in the

case of photon beams.

3. Results

All calculations reported here have been performed on a single CPU 200 MHz PentiumPro

personal computer running Linux. Shortly before the submission of the manuscript a new PC

was installed in our institution (PIII, 500 MHz, Linux). We repeated some of the simulations

on the new system and found that it is faster by a factor of 2.55. All efficiencies reported here

can therefore be transformed to a more up-to-date system by multiplying by this factor.

3.1. Notation

The variance reduction techniques studied in this paper and the notation used in the following

paragraphs are summarized in table 1. Various methods have been combined to find an optimum

efficiency and to study their influence on the statistical uncertainties. These are the photon

splitting and electron history repetition technique (section 2.4.6), the use of Sobol random

numbers (section 2.4.3), Russian roulette (section 2.4.4), Woodcock tracing (section 2.4.5), and

the transport parameter optimization described in section 2.5. The new techniques have been

benchmarked compared with XVMC without additional variance reduction (denoted as NVR),

the initial ray tracing (IRT) described in section 2.4.2 and paper I, and EGSnrc simulations.

The original XVMC implementation without additional variance reduction techniques (NV0)

is included in the tables in order to demonstrate the influence of the modifications described in

section 2.1. Efficiencies of EGS4 calculations with the DOSXYZ user code (Ma et al 1999)

which incorporates the PRESTA algorithm (Bielajew and Rogers 1987), denoted as EGS, can

serve as a comparison with an accepted general-purpose code.

Nevent is the number of initial photons and nsplit is the splitting factor explained in

section 2.4.6. The product of Nevent and nsplit is approximately the number of initial photon

2174

Table 1. Variance reduction techniques and parameters used to perform the investigations. More

explanations are given in text.

Notation

Method

Nevent

(106 )

EGS

NV0

Original XVMC, no VRT

100

100

1

1

50

10

NVR

100

100

100

100

PCT

KCT

ECT

Improvements,

no additional VRT

Initial ray tracing

NVR, Sobol

Woodcock, Sobol

Splitting, repetition,

Russian roulette, Sobol

SPL, changed Pcut

PCT, changed Kcut

KCT, changed Ecut

EST

IRT

SOB

WC

SPL

Ecut

(keV)

Estep

(%)

0

0

200

200

25

9

10

200

1

1

1

10

10

10

0

0

0

200

200

200

9

9

9

2.5

2.5

2.5

2.5

40

40

40

40

10

50

50

50

0

0

2000

2000

200

200

200

500

9

9

9

9

2.5

40

50

2000

500

12

nsplit

Pcut

(keV)

Kcut

(keV)

Figure 2. The difference distribution for a comparison between a XVMC/EST and EGSnrc dose

distributions for the 6 MV photon beam in the waterbonelung phantom. The error bars represent

one standard deviation. The fit is the result of (21) with 1 = 0.446,
1 = 0.5, 2 = 0.

histories necessary for simple Monte Carlo calculations (MC without splitting) to achieve

comparable statistical accuracy. In each simulation this product was 100 million histories.

3.2. Accuracy

An important part of this study was to establish the accuracy of the XVMC algorithm for

radiotherapy type calculations, especially when increasing particle transport and production

threshold energies and condensed history step sizes (see section 2.5).

All EGSnrc simulations were performed using AP = PCUT = 10 keV (photon production

and transport threshold energies) and AE = ECUT = 561 keV (electron production and

2175

Figure 3. A comparison between the central axis depth dose curve of a 6 MV photon beam in the

waterbonelung phantom calculated with XVMC/EST (solid line) or XVMC with Ecut = 2 MeV,

Estep = 0.25 (dashed line) and EGSnrc (circles). The only region with visible differences between

the three calculations is the region around the bonelung interface pointed to by the arrows.

transport energies including the electron rest energy). All other parameters were set to default

values.

In this section we will present two typical results of the comparisons between XVMC and

EGSnrc dose distributions in the waterbonelung phantom described in section 2.2 for 6 MV

beams. Results for other energies and phantoms are qualitatively similar.

Application of the analysis technique described in section 2.5.1 to a dose distribution

calculated with the EST method (see table 1) resulted in 1 = 0.446,
1 = 0.5 and an 2

value compatible with zero. A comparison between the difference distribution, calculated

for all voxels where the dose was larger than 50% of the maximum dose, and (21) with

the above parameters, is shown in figure 2. The good agreement indicates that the simple

ansatz discussed in section 2.5.1 is sufficient for our purposes. It is therefore established that

there is a systematic difference between XVMC/EST and EGSnrc in 44.6% of all voxels.

This difference is, however, only 0.5 standard deviations and, given the combined statistical

uncertainty of 0.8%, corresponds to only 0.4% of the maximum dose. This is well below the

stated accuracy goal of 2%/2 mm for radiotherapy calculations and not even detectable in a

visual inspection of the dose distributions, as can be seen in figure 3. Note that the systematic

difference of 0.4% is not just the result of the use of substantially higher cut-off energies and

the slightly less accurate condensed history electron-step algorithm employed in XVMC, but

also includes deviations resulting from the use of fit formulae to calculate photon attenuation

coefficients and electron stopping and scattering powers from the mass density (see paper I

and Kawrakow et al 1996).

As a counter example we present in figure 4 the difference distribution for the situation

where the XVMC dose calculation was performed using Ecut = 2 MeV and Estep = 0.25.

Note that the 6 MV spectrum employed has an average photon energy of 2.12 MeV so that

most of the electrons are slowed down until local absorption, just in one step in this case.

The error analysis resulted in 1 = 0.568,
1 = 0.81, 2 = 0.028,
2 = 4.46. Again, (21)

with the above parameters reproduces the observed difference distribution very well. The

accuracy of this calculation is deemed unacceptable because there is a significant fraction

2176

Figure 4. The same as in figure 2 for the situation where the XVMC dose calculation was performed

with Ecut = 2 MeV and Estep = 0.25. In this case 1 = 0.568,
1 = 0.81, 2 = 0.028,

2 = 4.46.

of voxels with a systematic dose over-prediction of 3.6% (4.46 times 0.8) of the maximum

dose. This dose over-prediction occurs mainly at the bonelung interface as can be seen in

figure 3. It is worth noticing that, although unacceptable for the final treatment plan dose

calculation, such a simplified MC simulation could be used in the planning process in order to

have a rapid dose calculation while trying to select a good beam configuration. A preliminary

investigation indicates that an additional efficiency increase by a factor of three to four could

be achieved compared with the efficiencies reported in tables 2, 3 and 4 in the next section.

Note also that such a simplified Monte Carlo simulation in which electrons take just one step

is essentially identical to a convolution/superposition calculation where the energy is spread

from the interaction site using pre-calculated kernels (but it is more accurate in calculating the

dose from scattered photons).

A systematic comparison between EGSnrc and XVMC dose distributions calculated with

various cut-off energies and electron step-sizes in the phantom described in section 2.2 and in

phantoms containing air and different bone materials shows that XVMC agrees with EGSnrc

on a 0.5% level for the parameters shown in table 1 (i.e. Ecut = 500 keV, Pcut = 50 keV,

Kcut = 2 MeV, Estep = 12%). A 12% accuracy is achievable with even longer condensed

history steps and higher cut-offs.

3.3. Efficiency

Tables 2, 3 and 4 summarize the results with respect to efficiency. Figure 5 shows a

graphic representation of the high dose region efficiency 90 , normalized to the corresponding

EGS4/PRESTA efficiency. Note that a logarithmic scale was used in this figure in order to

better visualize the factor of improvement due to the various techniques. Note also that the

EGS4/PRESTA calculations were optimized compared with the investigation presented in

paper I in order to allow for a fair comparison. The efficiency increase in the EGS4/PRESTA

calculations results from (a) use of 50 keV instead of 10 keV photon production and transport

threshold energy which was found to give the best efficiency (see section 4.5), (b) use of

EGS4/PRESTA default step-sizes as opposed to 9% ESTEPE restriction employed in paper I

2177

Table 2. CPU time, average standard deviation s50 for all voxels with D > 50%, and efficiencies,

defined in section 2.3, for the 2 MeV monoenergetic beam example.

20 (s1 )

50 (s1 )

90 (s1 )

Notation

TCPU (s)

s50 (%)

NV0

EGS

13 330

65 650

0.85

0.85

1.61

0.33

1.05

0.21

0.79

0.16

NVR

IRT

SOB

WC

SPL

PCT

KCT

ECT

16 036

13 107

15 831

22 018

4801

4580

2915

2389

0.85

0.72

0.60

0.47

0.61

0.61

0.60

0.57

1.32

2.24

2.58

2.66

8.23

8.58

13.40

17.67

0.86

1.48

1.76

2.08

5.67

5.90

9.42

12.71

0.63

1.18

1.65

1.87

5.58

5.87

8.84

12.73

2109

0.58

19.60

14.00

13.48

EST

20 (s1 )

50 (s1 )

90 (s1 )

Notation

TCPU (s)

s50 (%)

NV0

EGS

14 276

144 800

0.57

0.57

2.62

0.25

2.13

0.21

1.57

0.15

NVR

IRT

SOB

WC

SPL

PCT

KCT

ECT

15 264

11 555

15 448

22 866

5946

5891

5443

4090

0.57

0.51

0.49

0.36

0.50

0.50

0.51

0.50

2.47

4.05

3.36

4.03

8.34

8.36

8.89

12.24

2.00

3.27

2.71

3.32

6.65

6.68

7.08

9.77

1.44

2.37

2.02

2.43

4.94

4.92

4.97

6.84

3799

0.50

13.38

10.70

7.91

EST

and motivated by the desire for equal transport parameters and (c) use of the electron range

rejection technique in the present EGS4/PRESTA calculations. These optimizations have only

a minor effect for the 10 MeV beam but improve the efficiency by a factor of 1.6 to 1.8 for the

lower energy beams (2 MeV and 6 MeV).

If we compare the newly implemented VRTs without changing the transport parameters

(SPL) to the initial ray-tracing (IRT) method, we notice that using these techniques it is possible

to achieve much better efficiencies. The main effect comes from the photon splitting and

electron history repetition technique. This offers the chance to develop or use more complex

beam models, because the point source restriction is no longer necessary. For instance, a phase

space file generated by the BEAM code (Rogers et al 1995) can be taken as starting point for

photon dose calculations.

4. Discussion

In this section we will discuss the influence on efficiency of using the different techniques and

varying the parameters.

2178

Table 4. Same as table 2 but for the 6 MV spectrum.

50 (s1 )

90 (s1 )

1.57

0.33

1.04

0.22

0.79

0.17

0.86

0.74

0.81

0.59

0.69

0.69

0.68

0.66

1.22

2.07

1.33

1.83

5.58

5.83

8.85

11.49

0.81

1.40

0.92

1.31

4.11

4.31

6.60

8.63

0.62

1.15

0.81

1.03

3.88

4.17

6.29

8.13

0.67

12.81

9.58

9.06

Notation

TCPU (s)

s50 (%)

NV0

EGS

13 302

62 882

0.86

0.86

NVR

IRT

SOB

WC

SPL

PCT

KCT

ECT

16 774

13 099

16 334

21 799

5048

4893

3251

2629

2340

EST

20 (s1 )

Figure 5. Efficiencies in the high dose region, 90 for the 2 MeV (grey bars), 6 MV (black bars) and

10 MeV (no-fill bars) photon beams normalized to the corresponding EGS4/PRESTA efficiencies.

The main efficiency gain due to quasi or Sobol random numbers comes from using the first

three of these numbers to sample the primary source position (two random numbers) and the

primary photons mean free path (one random number). This leads to the optimum distribution

of primary interaction sites and is therefore similar to the IRT method. The gain is about a

factor of 2 for 2 MeV, a factor of 1.3 for 10 MeV, but only a factor of 1.1 for the 6 MV spectrum.

In the spectrum case, we have additional fluctuations because of the varying energies. The

gain for the 10 MeV beam is smaller compared with 2 MeV because the electron transport

through the geometry has more influence on the efficiency than the photon transport part of

the simulation. The use of 6 or even 12 Sobol numbers instead of 3 brought only a marginal

improvement in efficiency (20% for the 2 MeV case). This observation indicates that the

implementation of a quasi-random number generator for arbitrary high number of dimensions

will have no additional effect on the efficiency.

2179

A straightforward application of the Russian roulette technique in association with NVR

decreased the efficiency independent of the value of fweight used. An efficiency increase

using Russian roulette could be achieved only together with the modified Woodcock transport

scheme (see section 2.4.5) and the photon splitting technique (see section 2.4.6) by carefully

selecting fweight to ensure identical, or at least similar, weights for all electrons.

It should be noted that the use of Russian roulette makes the difference between 20 and

90 smaller (20 is more than twice as large as 90 for the NVR technique and 2 MeV photon

energy, for instance, but only 1.5 times as large for the SPL technique, see table 2), i.e. it leads

to a redistribution of efficiency. This effect is desirable as in most cases the primary interest

in the dose calculation will be the high-dose region.

4.3. Effect of Woodcock tracing

Woodcock tracing improves the efficiency by about 20% compared with simple Monte Carlo

with ray tracing. The efficiency gain is slightly higher if we have a grid with higher spatial

resolution, but even then is not comparable with the efficiency improvement due to the SPL

method. We have also investigated the use of Woodcock tracing in conjunction with photon

splitting and electron history repetition (section 2.4.6), but in the end, this was less efficient

than SPL as discussed in section 2.4.6. These results are therefore not presented here.

4.4. Variation of nsplit

Larger splitting numbers improve the efficiency due to the increased number of electron history

repetitions and reusing the sampling of photon interactions. If nsplit becomes too large, however,

the starting positions of the same electron history will be too close to each other, thus reducing

the information gain and so the efficiency. This effect is demonstrated in figure 6 showing the

efficiencies plotted versus the number of splittings. The behaviour is similar for the 2 MeV and

10 MeV cases. Although the splitting number that leads to a maximum efficiency is somewhat

energy dependent, this dependence is rather weak. Because of this fact and in view of the broad

nsplit region surrounding the best value we have decided to use nsplit = 40 for all energies in

the further investigations.

Figure 6. Efficiencies as a function of nsplit for the 6 MV spectrum. The transport parameters are

Pcut = 10 keV, Kcut = 0, Ecut = 200 keV and Estep = 9%, i.e the same as for method SPL.

2180

Figure 7. Efficiency as a function of Pcut for a 2 MeV photon beam in the waterbonelung

phantom.

The efficiency increase due to the splitting and repetition technique is somewhere between

2.5 and 5 compared with the IRT method, depending on energy. Compared with an XVMC

simulation without other VRTs (NVR), SPL gives an improvement of a factor of 5 to 9 and is

therefore the most successful VRT investigated here.

4.5. Influence of transport parameter optimization

The calculation time can always be decreased by increasing Pcut , Kcut , Ecut or Estep . Generally,

changing these parameters does not lead to changing standard deviations. This statement,

however, is not quite true for Pcut . If we increase this value, the increasing amount of energy

deposited at a point by cut-off photons leads to more fluctuations in low-density regions and

thus to a lower efficiency. This effect is demonstrated in figure 7 where the efficiency for the

PCT method is shown as a function of Pcut for the 2 MeV photon beam.

The optimum parameters are summarized in table 1 (method EST). The dose distributions

for this set of parameters agree at a 0.5% level with EGSnrc calculations as discussed in

section 3.2.

The gain in efficiency due to transport parameter optimization is somewhere between

a factor of 1.6 and 2.4. The transport parameter optimization is therefore the second most

successful VRT after SPL.

4.6. Simplifications and VRT in general purpose Monte Carlo codes

Arguably, some of the variance reduction techniques could be implemented in general

purpose Monte Carlo codes such as EGS4. This is not a straightforward task, though. The

implementation of the photon splitting technique discussed in section 2.4.6, for instance,

would require a complete recoding of the EGS4 photon transport routine. Implementation

of the electron history repetition option would require a complete recoding of the electron

transport routine as well. Use of higher cut-off energies is not necessarily beneficial in the

case of EGS4 because of the local energy deposition (unless, again, the electron transport

2181

Figure 8. The EGS4 versus EGSnrc difference distribution for the 6 MV photon beam in the

waterbonelung phantom. The fit is the result of (21) with 1 = 0.17,
1 = 1.8, 2 = 0.075,

2 = 2.4. The Gaussian distribution is shown in order to better visualize the deviation from a

purely statistical error distribution.

routine is recoded). Larger condensed history step sizes will have a little impact on the

calculation speed because, due to the EGS4 or PRESTA (Bielajew and Rogers 1987) boundary

crossing algorithms, in the energy range of interest step sizes are determined mainly by the

voxel resolution. Finally, turning off PRESTA and using standard EGS4 is dangerous and may

lead to a significant loss in accuracy. To demonstrate this fact we have performed a 6 MV

dose calculation in the waterbonelung phantom with DOSXYZ (Ma et al 1999), with and

without PRESTA. Not using PRESTA decreased the simulation time by a factor of two. An

analysis of the dose distribution according to the technique discussed in section 2.5.1 resulted

in 1 = 0.17,
1 = 1.8, 2 = 0.075,
2 = 2.4, i.e. the stated accuracy goal of of 2% of the

maximum dose is not satisfied in 7.5% of all voxels (the combined statistical uncertainty in

this case was 1%) and close to not satisfied in 17% of the voxels! The EGS4 versus EGSnrc

difference distribution, together with (21) with the above parameters, is shown in figure 8.

The Gaussian curve (dashed) is shown in order to better visualize the deviation from a purely

statistical differences distribution.

The systematic deviations between DOSXYZ using PRESTA and EGSnrc were below

0.7%. It is worth noticing that additional increase of cut-off energies and electron step sizes

in XVMC compared with the EST parameter set that resulted in an improvement in speed by

a factor of two had a similar decrease in accuracy as the one observed in the transition EGS4

with PRESTA to EGS4 without PRESTA.

5. Conclusion

The main result of this investigation is an increased photon beam dose calculation efficiency

by a factor of 3.5 (10 MeV) to 11 (2 MeV) compared with the starting point (XVMC with

initial ray tracing). Taking into account the factor of 7.4 (2 MeV) to 16 (10 MeV) for the

XVMC/IRT technique compared with a partially optimized EGS4/PRESTA calculation (see

section 3), the XVMC efficiency is 50 to 80 times higher than EGS4/PRESTA.

2182

The main efficiency gain comes from the SPL technique (a factor of 2 to 5 compared with

IRT or 5 to 9 compared with NVR). The remaining gain results from the careful optimization

of the electron and photon transport parameters. The techniques developed here do not impose

restrictions on the complexity of the beam model. A slight loss in efficiency (approximately

a factor of 1.21.5) will result from the use of phase space files as the starting point of the

calculations, however. This is due to the fact that in this case the use if a quasi-random sequence

(see section 2.4.3 and section 2.4.6) does not result in an improved efficiency.

The efficiency in the high-dose region of the 6 MV calculation is about 9 s1 on a single

PentiumPro 200 MHz CPU or 23 s1 on a PIII 500 MHz system. This means that a full 3D

dose calculation for a 10 10 cm2 field and a 5 mm voxel resolution can be performed in

1100 or 434 seconds for a 1% statistical uncertainty. If the statistical uncertainty requirement

is relaxed to 2%, the CPU time decreases by an additional factor of 4. If in addition less

stringent requirements on the systematic accuracy of the algorithm are imposed, higher cut-off

energies and longer condensed history step sizes could be used and thus the efficiency further

increased. Such approximate Monte Carlo simulations, which require less than a minute of

CPU time on a PIII 500 MHz system, can be used in the initial radiation treatment planning

phase, for instance. It is also worth noticing that the efficiency of a Monte Carlo calculation is

nearly independent of the complexity of the treatment plan. It can therefore be expected that

the efficiency of XVMC dose calculations for plans with many beams, gantry rotations, etc

can become comparable to or even outperform deterministic dose calculation algorithms.

The second main result of this investigation is the technique presented in section 2.5.1.

This technique allows for the quantitative comparison of MC calculated dose distribution

and the separation of statistical and systematic deviations. Using this technique it could be

demonstrated that XVMC/EST calculations agree with EGSnrc on a sub-per cent level.

Acknowledgments

Partial financial support for the work presented here was provided by the Deutsche

Forschungsgemeinschaft under contract number FI 757. One of us (Matthias Fippel) would

like to thank the NRC, especially the IRS group, Dave Rogers and Iwan Kawrakow, for their

kind hospitality during his stay in Ottawa. Dave Rogers is also acknowledged for many useful

comments on this manuscript.

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