Influence of cold walls on PET image quantification and volume segmentation: A phantom study

Authors


Abstract

Purpose:

Commercially available fillable plastic inserts used in positron emission tomography phantoms usually have thick plastic walls, separating their content from the background activity. These “cold” walls can modify the intensity values of neighboring active regions due to the partial volume effect, resulting in errors in the estimation of standardized uptake values. Numerous papers suggest that this is an issue for phantom work simulating tumor tissue, quality control, and calibration work. This study aims to investigate the influence of the cold plastic wall thickness on the quantification of 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose on the image activity recovery and on the performance of advanced automatic segmentation algorithms for the delineation of active regions delimited by plastic walls.

Methods:

A commercial set of six spheres of different diameters was replicated using a manufacturing technique which achieves a reduction in plastic walls thickness of up to 90%, while keeping the same internal volume. Both sets of thin- and thick-wall inserts were imaged simultaneously in a custom phantom for six different tumor-to-background ratios. Intensity values were compared in terms of mean and maximum standardized uptake values (SUVs) in the spheres and mean SUV of the hottest 1 ml region (SUVmax, SUVmean, and SUVpeak). The recovery coefficient (RC) was also derived for each sphere. The results were compared against the values predicted by a theoretical model of the PET-intensity profiles for the same tumor-to-background ratios (TBRs), sphere sizes, and wall thicknesses. In addition, ten automatic segmentation methods, written in house, were applied to both thin- and thick-wall inserts. The contours obtained were compared to computed tomography derived gold standard (“ground truth”), using five different accuracy metrics.

Results:

The authors' results showed that thin-wall inserts achieved significantly higher SUVmean, SUVmax, and RC values (up to 25%, 16%, and 25% higher, respectively) compared to thick-wall inserts, which was in agreement with the theory. This effect decreased with increasing sphere size and TBR, and resulted in substantial (>5%) differences between thin- and thick-wall inserts for spheres up to 30 mm diameter and TBR up to 4. Thinner plastic walls were also shown to significantly improve the delineation accuracy for the majority of the segmentation methods tested, by increasing the proportion of lesion voxels detected, although the errors in image quantification remained non-negligible.

Conclusions:

This study quantified the significant effect of a 90% reduction in the thickness of insert walls on SUV quantification and PET-based boundary detection. Mean SUVs inside the inserts and recovery coefficients were particularly affected by the presence of thick cold walls, as predicted by a theoretical approach. The accuracy of some delineation algorithms was also significantly improved by the introduction of thin wall inserts instead of thick wall inserts. This study demonstrates the risk of errors deriving from the use of cold wall inserts to assess and compare the performance of PET segmentation methods.

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