Intelligent inverse treatment planning via deep reinforcement learning, a proof-of-principle study in high dose-rate brachytherapy for cervical cancer

Chenyang Shen, Yesenia Gonzalez, Peter Klages, Nan Qin, Hyunuk Jung, Liyuan Chen, Dan Nguyen, Steve B. Jiang, Xun Jia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inverse treatment planning in radiation therapy is formulated as solving optimization problems. The objective function and constraints consist of multiple terms designed for different clinical and practical considerations. Weighting factors of these terms are needed to define the optimization problem. While a treatment planning optimization engine can solve the optimization problem with given weights, adjusting the weights to yield a high-quality plan is typically performed by a human planner. Yet the weight-tuning task is labor intensive, time consuming, and it critically affects the final plan quality. An automatic weight-tuning approach is strongly desired. The procedure of weight adjustment to improve the plan quality is essentially a decision-making problem. Motivated by the tremendous success in deep learning for decision making with human-level intelligence, we propose a novel framework to adjust the weights in a human-like manner. This study used inverse treatment planning in high-dose-rate brachytherapy (HDRBT) for cervical cancer as an example. We developed a weight-tuning policy network (WTPN) that observes dose volume histograms of a plan and outputs an action to adjust organ weighting factors, similar to the behaviors of a human planner. We trained the WTPN via end-to-end deep reinforcement learning. Experience replay was performed with the epsilon greedy algorithm. After training was completed, we applied the trained WTPN to guide treatment planning of five testing patient cases. It was found that the trained WTPN successfully learnt the treatment planning goals and was able to guide the weight tuning process. On average, the quality score of plans generated under the WTPN's guidance was improved by ∼8.5% compared to the initial plan with arbitrarily set weights, and by 10.7% compared to the plans generated by human planners. To our knowledge, this was the first time that a tool was developed to adjust organ weights for the treatment planning optimization problem in a human-like fashion based on intelligence learnt from a training process, which was different from existing strategies based on pre-defined rules. The study demonstrated potential feasibility to develop intelligent treatment planning approaches via deep reinforcement learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115013
JournalPhysics in medicine and biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • auto-planning
  • brachytherapy
  • deep reinforcement learning
  • human-level intelligence
  • treatment planning
  • weight tuning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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