A free-response evaluation determining value in the computed tomography attenuation correction image for revealing pulmonary incidental findings: a phantom study

Acad Radiol. 2014 Apr;21(4):538-45. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2014.01.003.


Rationale and objectives: The purpose of this study was to compare lesion-detection performance when interpreting computed tomography (CT) images that are acquired for attenuation correction when performing single photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography (SPECT/CT) myocardial perfusion studies. In the United Kingdom, there is a requirement that these images be interpreted; thus, it is necessary to understand observer performance on these images.

Materials and methods: An anthropomorphic chest phantom with inserted spherical lesions of different sizes and contrasts was scanned on five different SPECT/CT systems using site-specific CT protocols for SPECT/CT myocardial perfusion imaging. Twenty-one observers (0-4 years of CT experience) searched 26 image slices (17 abnormal, containing 1-3 lesions, and 9 normal, containing no lesions) for each CT acquisition. The observers marked and rated perceived lesions under the free-response paradigm. Four analyses were conducted using jackknife alternative free-response receiver operating characteristic (JAFROC) analysis: (1) 20-pixel acceptance radius (AR) with all 21 readers, abbreviated to 20/ALL analysis, (2) 40-pixel AR with 21 readers (40/ALL), (3) 20-pixel AR with 14 readers experienced in CT (20/EXP), and (4) 20-pixel AR with 7 readers with no CT experience (20/NOT). The significance level of the test was set so as to conservatively control the overall probability of a type I error to <0.05.

Results: The mean JAFROC figure of merit (FOM) for the five CT acquisitions for the 20/ALL study were 0.602, 0.639, 0.372, 0.475, and 0.719 with a significant difference in lesion-detection performance evident between all individual treatment pairs (P < .0001) with the exception of the 1-2 pairing, which was not significant (these differed only in milliamp seconds). System 5, which had the highest performance, had the smallest slice thickness and the largest matrix size. For the other analyses, the system orderings remained unchanged, and the significance of FOM difference findings remained identical to those for 20/ALL, with one exception: for 20/EXP analysis the 1-2 difference became significant with the higher milliamp seconds superior. Improved detection performance was associated with a smaller slice thickness, increased matrix size, and, to a lesser extent, increased tube charge.

Conclusions: Protocol variations for CT-based attenuation correction (AC) in SPECT/CT imaging have a measurable impact on lesion-detection performance. The results imply that z-axis resolution and matrix size had the greatest impact on lesion detection, with a weaker but detectable dependence on the product of milliamp and seconds.

Keywords: CT acquisition parameters; CT attenuation correction image; JAFROC; anthropomorphic chest phantom; lesion detection.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Artifacts
  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Observer Variation
  • Phantoms, Imaging*
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Radiography, Thoracic / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*