A practical and theoretical definition of 'small field'

Charles, P. H., Cranmer-Sargison, G., Crowe, S. B., Kairn, T., Thwaites, D. I., & Trapp, J. V. (2014) A practical and theoretical definition of 'small field'. Australasian Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine, 37(1), pp. 188-189.

View at publisher



The consistency of measuring small field output factors is greatly increased by reporting the measured dosimetric field size of each factor, as opposed to simply stating the nominal field size [1] and therefore requires the measurement of cross-axis profiles in a water tank. However, this makes output factor measurements time consuming. This project establishes at which field size the accuracy of output factors are not affected by the use of potentially inaccurate nominal field sizes, which we believe establishes a practical working definition of a ‘small’ field. The physical components of the radiation beam that contribute to the rapid change in output factor at small field sizes are examined in detail. The physical interaction that dominates the cause of the rapid dose reduction is quantified, and leads to the establishment of a theoretical definition of a ‘small’ field.


Current recommendations suggest that radiation collimation systems and isocentre defining lasers should both be calibrated to permit a maximum positioning uncertainty of 1 mm [2]. The proposed practical definition for small field sizes is as follows: if the output factor changes by ±1.0 % given a change in either field size or detector position of up to ±1 mm then the field should be considered small. Monte Carlo modelling was used to simulate output factors of a 6 MV photon beam for square fields with side lengths from 4.0 to 20.0 mm in 1.0 mm increments. The dose was scored to a 0.5 mm wide and 2.0 mm deep cylindrical volume of water within a cubic water phantom, at a depth of 5 cm and SSD of 95 cm. The maximum difference due to a collimator error of ±1 mm was found by comparing the output factors of adjacent field sizes. The output factor simulations were repeated 1 mm off-axis to quantify the effect of detector misalignment. Further simulations separated the total output factor into collimator scatter factor and phantom scatter factor. The collimator scatter factor was further separated into primary source occlusion effects and ‘traditional’ effects (a combination of flattening filter and jaw scatter etc.). The phantom scatter was separated in photon scatter and electronic disequilibrium. Each of these factors was plotted as a function of field size in order to quantify how each affected the change in small field size.


The use of our practical definition resulted in field sizes of 15 mm or less being characterised as ‘small’. The change in field size had a greater effect than that of detector misalignment. For field sizes of 12 mm or less, electronic disequilibrium was found to cause the largest change in dose to the central axis (d = 5 cm). Source occlusion also caused a large change in output factor for field sizes less than 8 mm.

Discussion and conclusions

The measurement of cross-axis profiles are only required for output factor measurements for field sizes of 15 mm or less (for a 6 MV beam on Varian iX linear accelerator). This is expected to be dependent on linear accelerator spot size and photon energy. While some electronic disequilibrium was shown to occur at field sizes as large as 30 mm (the ‘traditional’ definition of small field [3]), it has been shown that it does not cause a greater change than photon scatter until a field size of 12 mm, at which point it becomes by far the most dominant effect.

Impact and interest:

Search Google Scholar™

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

ID Code: 71400
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
DOI: 10.1007/s13246-014-0248-y
ISSN: 1879-5447
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PHYSICAL SCIENCES (020000) > OTHER PHYSICAL SCIENCES (029900) > Medical Physics (029903)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Deposited On: 12 May 2014 23:04
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 07:01

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page