Operations research for resource planning and -use in radiotherapy: a literature review

Bruno Vieira* (Corresponding Author), Erwin W. Hans, Corine van Vliet-Vroegindeweij, Jeroen van de Kamer, Wim van Harten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
818 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The delivery of radiotherapy (RT) involves the use of rather expensive resources and multi-disciplinary staff. As the number of cancer patients receiving RT increases, timely delivery becomes increasingly difficult due to the complexities related to, among others, variable patient inflow, complex patient routing, and the joint planning of multiple resources. Operations research (OR) methods have been successfully applied to solve many logistics problems through the development of advanced analytical models for improved decision making. This paper presents the state of the art in the application of OR methods for logistics optimization in RT, at various managerial levels.

Methods: A literature search was performed in six databases covering several disciplines, from the medical to the technical field. Papers included in the review were published in peer-reviewed journals from 2000 to 2015. Data extraction includes the subject of research, the OR methods used in the study, the extent of implementation according to a six-stage model and the (potential) impact of the results in practice.

Results: From the 33 papers included in the review, 18 addressed problems related to patient scheduling (of which 12 focus on scheduling patients on linear accelerators), 8 focus on strategic decision making, 5 on resource capacity planning, and 2 on patient prioritization. Although calculating promising results, none of the papers reported a full implementation of the model with at least a thorough pre-post performance evaluation, indicating that, apart from possible reporting bias, implementation rates of OR models in RT are probably low.

Conclusions: The literature on OR applications in RT covers a wide range of approaches from strategic capacity management to operational scheduling levels, and shows that considerable benefits in terms of both waiting times and resource utilization are likely to be achieved. Various fields can be further developed, for instance optimizing the coordination between the available capacity of different imaging devices or developing scheduling models that consider the RT chain of operations as a whole rather than the treatment machines alone.
Original languageEnglish
Article number149
JournalBMC medical informatics and decision making
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Operations research
  • Radiotherapy
  • Literature review
  • Resource planning
  • Logistics optimization
  • Operations improvement


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