Purpose: To evaluate the image quality obtained in a standard QA phantom with both clinical and non-clinical cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) acquisition modes for the head and neck (HN) region as a step towards CBCT-based treatment planning. The impact of deteriorated Hounsfield unit (HU) accuracy was investigated by comparing results from clinical CBCT image reconstructions to those obtained from a pre-clinical scatter correction algorithm.
Methods: Five different CBCT acquisition modes on a clinical system for kV CBCT-guided radiotherapy were investigated. Image reconstruction was performed in both standard clinical software and with an experimental reconstruction algorithm with improved beam hardening and scatter correction. Using the Catphan 504 phantom, quantitative measures of HU uniformity, HU verification and linearity, contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR), and spatial resolution using modulation transfer function (MTF) estimation were assessed. To benchmark the CBCT image properties, comparison to standard HN protocols on conventional CT scanners was performed by similar measures.
Results: The HU uniformity within a water-equivalent homogeneous region was considerably improved using experimental vs. standard reconstruction, by factors of two for partial scans and four for full scans. Similarly, the amount of capping/cupping artifact was reduced by more than 1.5%. With mode and reconstruction specific HU calibration using seven inhomogeneity inserts comparable HU linearity was observed. CNR was on average 5% higher for experimental reconstruction (scaled with the square-root of dose between modes for both reconstruction methods).
Conclusions: Judged on parameters affecting the common diagnostic image properties, improved beam hardening and scatter correction diminishes the difference between CBCT and CT image quality considerably. In the pursuit of CBCT-based treatment adaptation, dedicated imaging protocols may be required.