Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify an optimal cross-sectional neck diameter that correlates with image quality and radiation exposure in MDCT examinations of the neck performed with automatic tube current modulation.
Materials and methods: Ninety-six adults underwent 64-MDCT of the neck with automatic tube current modulation at the same noise setting. On frontal and lateral scout images, maximal body diameters were measured in the transverse and anteroposterior planes at two levels: just below the mandible (upper neck) and at the lung apex (lower neck). Neck diameters were correlated with image quality on a subjective 4-point scale and with radiation exposure (volume CT dose index).
Results: As continuous variables, both anteroposterior and transverse diameters in the lower neck were associated with image quality (p ≤ 0.0012). Diameters in the upper neck were not associated with image quality. When diameters in the lower neck were categorized into small, medium, and large, image quality grades were higher for smaller patients (p < 0.001). Images of 81% of small patients (lower neck transverse diameter < 40 cm) had a high image quality grade, compared with images of 7-20% of large patients (diameter > 48 cm). Transverse diameter in the lower neck correlated best with radiation dose measured as volume CT dose index (r = 0.78). When transverse diameter in the lower neck was used to categorize patients' size, the mean volume CT dose index for small patients was 34.1 mSv and that for large patients was 63.5 mSv.
Conclusion: Lower neck transverse diameter on the CT scout image best correlates with image quality and radiation exposure for neck MDCT examinations performed with automatic tube current modulation. Images of patients with a lower neck transverse diameter less than 40 cm are of higher quality than those of larger patients. Individualized dose reduction techniques therefore may be appropriate for smaller patients.