The impact of air pockets around the vaginal cylinder on vaginal vault brachytherapy
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Objective: To evaluate the incidence, size and predisposing factors for air pockets around the vaginal cylinder and their dosimetric effect on the vaginal mucosa. Methods: We investigated 174 patients with endometrial carcinoma treated with external radiotherapy (RT) and brachytherapy (BRT) (101 patients, 58%) or BRT alone (73 patients, 42%). The quantity, volume and dosimetric impact of the air pockets surrounding the vaginal cylinder were quantified. The proportions of patients with or without air pockets during application were stratified according to menopausal status, treatment modality and interval between surgery and RT. Results: Air pockets around the vaginal cylinder were seen in 75 patients (43%), while 99 patients (57%) had no air pockets. Only 11 patients (6.3%) received less than the prescribed dose (average 93.9% of prescribed dose; range, 79.0-99.2%). Air pockets were significantly fewer in pre-menopausal patients or in patients treated with the combination of external RT and BRT than in postmenopausal patients or patients treated with BRT alone. A significant correlation existed between the mucosal displacement of the air gap and the ratio of the measured dose at the surface of the air gap and prescribed dose (Pearson r = -0.775; p < 0.001). Conclusion: Air pockets were still a frequent problem during vaginal vault BRT, especially in post-menopausal patients or in patients treated with BRT alone, which may potentially cause dose reductions at the vaginal mucosa. Advances in knowledge: Air pockets around the vaginal cylinder remain a significant problem, which may potentially cause dose reduction in the target volume.