Effects of kV, filtration, dose, and object size on soft tissue and iodine contrast in dedicated breast CT

Andrew M. Hernandez, Craig K. Abbey, Peymon Ghazi, George Burkett, John M. Boone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Purpose: Clinical use of dedicated breast computed tomography (bCT) requires relatively short scan times necessitating systems with high frame rates. This in turn impacts the x-ray tube operating range. We characterize the effects of tube voltage, beam filtration, dose, and object size on contrast and noise properties related to soft tissue and iodine contrast agents as a way to optimize imaging protocols for soft tissue and iodine contrast at high frame rates. Methods: This study design uses the signal-difference-to-noise ratio (SDNR), noise-equivalent quanta (NEQ), and detectability (d´) as measures of imaging performance for a prototype breast CT scanner that utilizes a pulsed x-ray tube (with a 4 ms pulse width) at 43.5 fps acquisition rate. We assess a range of kV, filtration, breast phantom size, and mean glandular dose (MGD). Performance measures are estimated from images of adipose-equivalent breast phantoms machined to have a representative size and shape of small, medium, and large breasts. Water (glandular tissue equivalent) and iodine contrast (5 mg/ml) were used to fill two cylindrical wells in the phantoms. Results: Air kerma levels required for obtaining an MGD of 6 mGy ranged from 7.1 to 9.1 mGy and are reported across all kV, filtration, and breast phantom sizes. However, at 50 kV, the thick filters (0.3 mm of Cu or Gd) exceeded the maximum available mA of the x-ray generator, and hence, these conditions were excluded from subsequent analysis. There was a strong positive association between measurements of SDNR and d’ (R2 > 0.97) within the range of parameters investigated in this work. A significant decrease in soft tissue SDNR was observed for increasing phantom size and increasing kV with a maximum SDNR at 50 kV with 0.2 mm Cu or 0.2 mm Gd filtration. For iodine contrast SDNR, a significant decrease was observed with increasing phantom size, but a decrease in SDNR for increasing kV was only observed for 70 kV (50 and 60 kV were not significantly different). Thicker Gd filtration (0.3 mm Gd) resulted in a significant increase in iodine SDNR and decrease in soft tissue SDNR but requires significantly more tube current to deliver the same MGD. Conclusions: The choice of 60 kV with 0.2 mm Gd filtration provides a good trade-off for maximizing both soft tissue and iodine contrast. This scanning technique takes advantage of the ~50 keV Gd k-edge to produce contrast and can be achieved within operating range of the x-ray generator used in this work. Imaging at 60 kV allows for a greater range in dose delivered to the large breast sizes when uniform image quality is desired across all breast sizes. While imaging performance metrics (i.e., detectability index and SDNR) were shown to be strongly correlated, the methodologies presented in this work for the estimation of NEQ (and subsequently d') provides a meaningful description of the spatial resolution and noise characteristics of this prototype bCT system across a range of beam quality, dose, and object sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMedical Physics
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020


  • breast CT
  • iodine contrast
  • MTF
  • NPS
  • spectral optimization
  • x-ray imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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