Positron emission tomography is so far the only method for in-vivo dose delivery verification in hadron therapy that is in clinical use. PET imaging during irradiation maximizes the number of detected counts and minimizes washout. In such a scenario, also short-lived positron emitters will be observed.
As very little is known on the production of these nuclides, we determined which ones are relevant for proton therapy treatment verification. In order to be relevant, nuclides have to be produced close to the distal edge and thus at rather low proton energy. Therefore we measured the integral production of short-lived
positron emitters in the stopping of 55 MeV protons in carbon, oxygen, phosphorus and calcium. The experiments were performed at the irradiation facility of the AGOR cyclotron at KVI-Center for Advanced Radiation Technology,
University of Groningen. The positron emitters were identified based on their half-life. In order to do this, the proton beam was pulsed, i.e. delivered as a succession of beam-on and beam-off periods, and the time evolution of the 511 keV positron annihilation photons was recorded. A half-life analysis of the beam-off period allowed to determine the production rates of separate nuclides. The 511 keV photons were detected by a germanium clover detector . A correction for the escape of positrons from the target, determined via Monte
Carlo simulations, was applied. In the stopping of 55 MeV protons, the most copiously produced short-lived nuclides and their production rates relative to the relevant long-lived nuclides are: 12N (T1/2 = 11 ms) on carbon (9% of the 11C production), 29P (T1/2 = 4.1 s) on phosphorus (20% of the 30P production) and 38mK (T1/2 = 0.92 s) on calcium (113% of the 38gK production). No short-lived nuclides are produced on water (i.e. oxygen). The experimental production rates are used to calculate the production on PMMA and a representative set of 4 tissue materials. [fig. 1] The number of decays per 55 MeV proton stopped in these materials, integrated over an irradiation, is
calculated as function of the duration of the irradiation. The most noticeable result is that for an irradiation in (carbon-rich) adipose tissue, 12N will dominate the PET image up to an irradiation duration of 70 s. On bone tissue, 15O dominates over 12N after 8-15 s (depending on the carbon-to-oxygen ratio). Considering nuclides created on phosphorus and calcium, the short-lived ones provide 2.5 times more decays than the long-lived ones during a 70 s irradiation. Bone tissue will thus be better visible in beam-on PET compared to PET imaging after an irradiation. The results warrant detailed investigations into the energy-dependent production of 12N, 29P and 38mK and their effect on PET imaging during proton irradiations.