Purpose: Low contrast detectability (LCD) is a metric of fundamental importance in computed tomography (CT) imaging. In spite of this, its measurement is challenging in the context of nonlinear data processing. We introduce a new framework for objectively characterizing LCD with a single scan of a special-purpose phantom and automated analysis software. The output of the analysis software is a “machine LCD” metric which is more representative of LCD than contrast-noise ratio (CNR). It is not intended to replace human observer or model observer studies. Methods: Following preliminary simulations, we fabricated a phantom containing hundreds of low-contrast beads. These beads are acrylic spheres (1.6 mm, net contrast ~10 HU) suspended and randomly dispersed in a background matrix of nylon pellets and isoattenuating saline. The task was to search for and localize the beads. A modified matched filter was used to automatically scan the reconstruction and select candidate bead localizations of varying confidence. These were compared to bead locations as determined from a high-dose reference scan to produce free-response ROC curves. We compared iterative reconstruction (IR) and filtered backpropagation (FBP) at multiple dose levels between 40 and 240 mAs. The scans at 60, 120, and 180 mAs were performed three times each to estimate uncertainty. Results: Experimental scans demonstrated the feasibility of our technique. Our metric for machine LCD was the area under the exponential transform of the FROC curve (AUC). AUC increased monotonically from 0.21 at 40 mAs to 0.84 at 240 mAs. The sample standard deviation of AUC was approximately 0.02. This measurement uncertainty in AUC corresponded to a change in tube current of 4% to 8%. Surprisingly, we found that AUCs for IR were slightly worse than AUCs for FBP. While the phantom was sufficient for these experiments, it contained small air bubbles and alternative fabrication methods will be necessary for widespread utilization. Conclusions: It is feasible to measure machine LCD using a search task on a phantom with hundreds of beads and to obtain tight error bars using only a single scan. Our method could facilitate routine quality assurance or possibly enable comparisons between different protocols and scanners.
- dose reduction
- low-contrast detectability
- quality assurance
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging