Wall thickness (WT) is an airway feature of great interest for the assessment of morphological changes in the lung parenchyma. Multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) has recently been used to evaluate airway WT, but the potential risk of radiation-induced carcinogenesis—particularly in younger patients—might limit a wider use of this imaging method in clinical practice. The recent commercial implementation of the statistical model-based iterative reconstruction (MBIR) algorithm, instead of the conventional filtered back projection (FBP) algorithm, has enabled considerable radiation dose reduction in many other clinical applications of MDCT. The purpose of this work was to study the impact of radiation dose and MBIR in the MDCT assessment of airway WT.
An airway phantom was scanned using a clinical MDCT system (Discovery CT750 HD, GE Healthcare) at 4 kV levels and 5 mAs levels. Both FBP and a commercial implementation of MBIR (VeoTM, GE Healthcare) were used to reconstruct CT images of the airways. For each kV–mAs combination and each reconstruction algorithm, the contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) of the airways was measured, and the WT of each airway was measured and compared with the nominal value; the relative bias and the angular standard deviation in the measured WT were calculated. For each airway and reconstruction algorithm, the overall performance of WT quantification across all of the 20 kV–mAs combinations was quantified by the sum of squares (SSQs) of the difference between the measured and nominal WT values. Finally, the particular kV–mAs combination and reconstruction algorithm that minimized radiation dose while still achieving a reference WT quantification accuracy level was chosen as the optimal acquisition and reconstruction settings.
The wall thicknesses of seven airways of different sizes were analyzed in the study. Compared with FBP, MBIR improved the CNR of the airways, particularly at low radiation dose levels. For FBP, the relative bias and the angular standard deviation of the measured WT increased steeply with decreasing radiation dose. Except for the smallest airway, MBIR enabled significant reduction in both the relative bias and angular standard deviation of the WT, particularly at low radiation dose levels; the SSQ was reduced by 50%–96% by using MBIR. The optimal reconstruction algorithm was found to be MBIR for the seven airways being assessed, and the combined use of MBIR and optimal kV–mAs selection resulted in a radiation dose reduction of 37%–83% compared with a reference scan protocol with a dose level of 1 mGy.
The quantification accuracy of airway WT is strongly influenced by radiation dose and reconstruction algorithm. The MBIR algorithm potentially allows the desired WT quantification accuracy to be achieved with reduced radiation dose, which may enable a wider clinical use of MDCT for the assessment of airway WT, particularly for younger patients who may be more sensitive to exposures with ionizing radiation.