Current status and future perspective of flattening filter free photon beams

Dietmar Georg, Tommy Knöös, Brendan McClean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Flattening filters (FFs) have been considered as an integral part of the treatment head of a medical accelerator for more than 50 years. The reasons for the longstanding use are, however, historical ones. Advanced treatment techniques, such as stereotactic radiotherapy or intensity modulated radiotherapy have stimulated the interest in operating linear accelerators in a flattening filter free (FFF) mode. The current manuscript reviews treatment head physics of FFF beams, describes their characteristics and the resulting potential advantages in their medical use, and closes with an outlook. Methods: A number of dosimetric benefits have been determined for FFF beams, which range from increased dose rate and dose per pulse to favorable output ratio in-air variation with field size, reduced energy variation across the beam, and reduced leakage and out-of-field dose, respectively. Finally, the softer photon spectrum of unflattened beams has implications on imaging strategies and radiation protection. Results: The dosimetric characteristics of FFF beams have an effect on treatment delivery, patient comfort, dose calculation accuracy, beam matching, absorbed dose determination, treatment planning, machine specific quality assurance, imaging, and radiation protection. When considering conventional C-arm linacs in a FFF mode, more studies are needed to specify and quantify the clinical advantages, especially with respect to treatment plan quality and quality assurance. Conclusions: New treatment units are already on the market that operate without a FF or can be operated in a dedicated clinical FFF mode. Due to the convincing arguments of removing the FF, it is expected that more vendors will offer dedicated treatment units for advanced photon beam therapy in the near future. Several aspects related to standardization, dosimetry, treatment planning, and optimization need to be addressed in more detail in order to facilitate the clinical implementation of unflattened beams. (C) 2011 American Association of Physicists in Medicine. [DOI: 10.1118/1.3554643]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1280-1293
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biophysics

Free keywords

  • unflattened beams
  • intensity modulated radiotherapy
  • stereotactic
  • radiotherapy
  • dosimetry


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