Estimating patient dose from CT exams that use automatic exposure control: Development and validation of methods to accurately estimate tube current values

Kyle McMillan, Maryam Bostani, Christopher H. Cagnon, Lifeng Yu, Shuai Leng, Cynthia H. McCollough, Michael F. McNitt-Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Purpose: The vast majority of body CT exams are performed with automatic exposure control (AEC), which adapts the mean tube current to the patient size and modulates the tube current either angularly, longitudinally or both. However, most radiation dose estimation tools are based on fixed tube current scans. Accurate estimates of patient dose from AEC scans require knowledge of the tube current values, which is usually unavailable. The purpose of this work was to develop and validate methods to accurately estimate the tube current values prescribed by one manufacturer's AEC system to enable accurate estimates of patient dose. Methods: Methods were developed that took into account available patient attenuation information, user selected image quality reference parameters and x-ray system limits to estimate tube current values for patient scans. Methods consistent with AAPM Report 220 were developed that used patient attenuation data that were: (a) supplied by the manufacturer in the CT localizer radiograph and (b) based on a simulated CT localizer radiograph derived from image data. For comparison, actual tube current values were extracted from the projection data of each patient. Validation of each approach was based on data collected from 40 pediatric and adult patients who received clinically indicated chest (n = 20) and abdomen/pelvis (n = 20) scans on a 64 slice multidetector row CT (Sensation 64, Siemens Healthcare, Forchheim, Germany). For each patient dataset, the following were collected with Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval: (a) projection data containing actual tube current values at each projection view, (b) CT localizer radiograph (topogram) and (c) reconstructed image data. Tube current values were estimated based on the actual topogram (actual-topo) as well as the simulated topogram based on image data (sim-topo). Each of these was compared to the actual tube current values from the patient scan. In addition, to assess the accuracy of each method in estimating patient organ doses, Monte Carlo simulations were performed by creating voxelized models of each patient, identifying key organs and incorporating tube current values into the simulations to estimate dose to the lungs and breasts (females only) for chest scans and the liver, kidney, and spleen for abdomen/pelvis scans. Organ doses from simulations using the actual tube current values were compared to those using each of the estimated tube current values (actual-topo and sim-topo). Results: When compared to the actual tube current values, the average error for tube current values estimated from the actual topogram (actual-topo) and simulated topogram (sim-topo) was 3.9% and 5.8% respectively. For Monte Carlo simulations of chest CT exams using the actual tube current values and estimated tube current values (based on the actual-topo and sim-topo methods), the average differences for lung and breast doses ranged from 3.4% to 6.6%. For abdomen/pelvis exams, the average differences for liver, kidney, and spleen doses ranged from 4.2% to 5.3%. Conclusions: Strong agreement between organ doses estimated using actual and estimated tube current values provides validation of both methods for estimating tube current values based on data provided in the topogram or simulated from image data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4262-4275
Number of pages14
JournalMedical physics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Monte Carlo simulations
  • computed tomography
  • organ dose
  • radiation dose
  • tube current modulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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