Purpose: To evaluate the image quality of virtual monochromatic images synthesized from dual-source dual-energy computed tomography (CT) in comparison with conventional polychromatic single-energy CT for the same radiation dose.
Methods: In dual-energy CT, besides the material-specific information, one may also synthesize monochromatic images at different energies, which can be used for routine diagnosis similar to conventional polychromatic single-energy images. In this work, the authors assessed whether virtual monochromatic images generated from dual-source CT scanners had an image quality similar to that of polychromatic single-energy images for the same radiation dose. First, the authors provided a theoretical analysis of the optimal monochromatic energy for either the minimum noise level or the highest iodine contrast to noise ratio (CNR) for a given patient size and dose partitioning between the low- and high-energy scans. Second, the authors performed an experimental study on a dual-source CT scanner to evaluate the noise and iodine CNR in monochromatic images. A thoracic phantom with three sizes of attenuating rings was used to represent four adult sizes. For each phantom size, three dose partitionings between the low-energy (80 kV) and the high-energy (140 kV) scans were used in the dual-energy scan. Monochromatic images at eight energies (40 to 110 keV) were generated for each scan. Phantoms were also scanned at each of the four polychromatic single energy (80, 100, 120, and 140 kV) with the same radiation dose.
Results: The optimal virtual monochromatic energy depends on several factors: phantom size, partitioning of the radiation dose between low- and high-energy scans, and the image quality metrics to be optimized. With the increase of phantom size, the optimal monochromatic energy increased. With the increased percentage of radiation dose on the low energy scan, the optimal monochromatic energy decreased. When maximizing the iodine CNR in monochromatic images, the optimal energy was lower than that when minimizing noise level. When the total radiation dose was equally distributed between low and high energy in dual-energy scans, for minimum noise, the optimal energies were 68, 71, 74, and 77 keV for small, medium, large, and extra-large (xlarge) phantoms, respectively; for maximum iodine CNR, the optimal energies were 66, 68, 70, 72 keV. With the optimal monochromatic energy, the noise level was similar to and the CNR was better than that in a single-energy scan at 120 kV for the same radiation dose. Compared to an 80 kV scan, however, the iodine CNR in monochromatic images was lower for the small, medium, and large phantoms.
Conclusions: In dual-source dual-energy CT, optimal virtual monochromatic energy depends on patient size, dose partitioning, and the image quality metric optimized. With the optimal monochromatic energy, the noise level was similar to and the iodine CNR was better than that in 120 kV images for the same radiation dose. Compared to single-energy 80 kV images, the iodine CNR in virtual monochromatic images was lower for small to large phantom sizes.