Computed tomography (CT) radiation dose reduction is frequently achieved by applying lower tube voltages and using iterative reconstruction (IR). For calcium scoring, the reference protocol at 120 kVp with filtered back projection (FBP) is still used, because kVp and IR may influence the Agatston score (AS) and volume score (VS). The authors present a two-step method to optimize dose: first, to determine the lowest feasible exposure and highest noise thresholds; second, to define a calibration method that ensures that the AS and VS are similar to the reference protocol.
AS and VS were measured for an anthropomorphic thoracic phantom that includes a calcium calibration module. The phantom was scanned on a 320-row CT scanner, at tube voltages of 120 kVp using FBP, and 120, 100, and 80 kVp using adaptive iterative dose reduction (AIDR 3D) reconstruction. The minimum CTDIs were determined based on three objective quality criteria. Calibration was performed to estimate adjusted CT number thresholds for the lower kVp acquisitions. Finally, the accuracies of the total and individual insert scores at dose level close to the minimum CTDI level were investigated and compared to low (FBPLD − 120) and high (FBPHD − 120) dose reference protocols (based on ten repeated acquisitions for each group).
IR allows the exposure to be reduced by 69% at 120 kVp, with no significant effect on the total scores when averaged over all included dose steps and compared to FBP-120 (AS: 693 vs 699, p = 0.182; VS: 588 vs 587 mm3, p = 0.569). Also when averaged over ten repeated scans and compared to FBPHD − 120 (AS: 709 vs 704, p = 0.435; VS: 604 vs 601 mm3, p = 0.479), there is no statistical significant effect. Reducing the peak tube voltage allows even greater dose reductions: 73% at 100 kVp and 76% at 80 kVp. The calibrated CT number thresholds for analysis at 120, 100, and 80 kVp were, respectively, 130, 133, and 160 HU for the Agatston score, and 130, 132, and 140 HU for the volume score. Following the calibration, the mean scores of the four groups with dose variation were not significantly different from the reference protocol, at 100 kVp (AS: 698 vs 699, p = 0.818; VS: 584 vs 587 mm3, p = 0.365) or at 80 kVp (AS: 698 vs 699, p = 0.996; VS: 586 vs 587 mm3, p = 0.827). Similarly, there was no significant score difference with FBPLD − 120 during repeated scanning: 100 kVp (AS: 690 vs 694, p = 0.394; VS: 579 vs 585 mm3, p = 0.168) and 80 kVp (AS: 703 vs 694, p = 0.115; VS: 588 vs 585 mm3, p = 0.613). Compared to FBPHD − 120 group, the relative score deviation for the accuracy of the 400 and 800 mg/cm3 HA inserts with 3 and 5 mm diameter is less than 7%. However, the relative deviation of the smaller 1 mm inserts is poorer (up to 41% deviations for scores <3).
With iterative reconstruction using AIDR 3D, deviations of the total Agatston and volume scores remain within 4% of the reference protocol. The 1 mm inserts were detected as calcification, but scores less than ten tend to be underestimated. Following the calibration process, the application of IR in combination with reduced tube voltages allows up to 76% lower radiation dose.