Head and neck synthetic CT generated from ultra-low-dose cone-beam CT following Image Gently Protocol using deep neural network

Nimu Yuan, Shyam Rao, Quan Chen, Levent Sensoy, Jinyi Qi, Yi Rong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Image guidance is used to improve the accuracy of radiation therapy delivery but results in increased dose to patients. This is of particular concern in children who need be treated per Pediatric Image Gently Protocols due to long-term risks from radiation exposure. The purpose of this study is to design a deep neural network architecture and loss function for improving soft-tissue contrast and preserving small anatomical features in ultra-low-dose cone-beam CTs (CBCT) of head and neck cancer (HNC) imaging. Methods: A 2D compound U-Net architecture (modified U-Net++) with different depths was proposed to enhance the network capability of capturing small-volume structures. A mask weighted loss function (Mask-Loss) was applied to enhance soft-tissue contrast. Fifty-five paired CBCT and CT images of HNC patients were retrospectively collected for network training and testing. The output enhanced CBCT images from the present study were evaluated with quantitative metrics including mean absolute error (MAE), signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and structural similarity (SSIM), and compared with those from the previously proposed network architectures (U-Net and wide U-Net) using MAE loss functions. A visual assessment of ten selected structures in the enhanced CBCT images of each patient was performed to evaluate image quality improvement, blindly scored by an experienced radiation oncologist specialized in HN cancer. Results: All the enhanced CBCT images showed reduced artifactual distortion and image noise. U-Net++ outperformed the U-Net and wide U-Net in terms of MAE, contrast near structure boundaries, and small structures. The proposed Mask-Loss improved image contrast and accuracy of the soft-tissue regions. The enhanced CBCT images predicted by U-Net++ and Mask-Loss demonstrated improvement compared to the U-Net in terms of average MAE (52.41 vs 42.85 HU), SNR (14.14 vs 15.07 dB), and SSIM (0.84 vs 0.87), respectively ((Formula presented.), in all paired t-tests). The visual assessment showed that the proposed U-Net++ and Mask-Loss significantly improved original CBCTs ((Formula presented.)), compared to the U-Net and MAE loss. Conclusions: The proposed network architecture and loss function effectively improved image quality in soft-tissue contrast, organ boundary, and small structure preservation for ultra-low-dose CBCT following Image Gently Protocol. This method has potential to provide sufficient anatomical representation on the enhanced CBCT images for accurate treatment delivery and potentially fast online-adaptive re-planning for HN cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMedical Physics
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • cone-beam CT
  • deep neural network
  • head and neck
  • soft tissue
  • ultra-low dose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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