Investigating the low-dose limits of multidetector CT in lung nodule surveillance

N. S. Paul, J. H. Siewerdsen, D. Patsios, T. B. Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the factors limiting nodule detection in thoracic computed tomography (CT) and to determine whether prior knowledge of nodule size and attenuation, available from a baseline CT study, influences the minimum radiation dose at which nodule surveillance CT scans can be performed while maintaining current levels of nodule detectability. Multiple nodules varying in attenuation (-509 to +110 HU) and diameter (1.6 to 9.5 mm) were layered in random and ordered sequences within 2 lung cylinders made of Rando® lung material and suspended within a custom-built CT phantom. Multiple CT scans were performed at varying kVp (120, 100, and 80), mA (200, 150, 100, 50, 20, and 10), and beam collimation (5, 2.5, and 1.25 mm) on a four-row multidetector scanner (Lightspeed, General Electric, Milwaukee, WI) using 0.8 s gantry rotation. The corresponding range of radiation dose over which images were acquired was 0.3-26.4 mGy. Nine observers independently performed three specific tasks, namely: (1) To detect a 3.2 mm nodule of 23 HU; (2) To detect 3.2 mm nodules of varying attenuation (-509 to -154 HU); and (3) To detect nodules varying in size (1.6-9 mm) and attenuation (-509 to 110 HU). A two-alternative forced-choice test was used in order to determine the limits of nodule detection in terms of the proportion of correct responses (Pcorr, related to the area under the ROC curve) as a summary metric of observer performance. The radiation dose levels for detection of 99% of nodules in each task were as follows: Task 1 (1 mGy); Task 2 (5 mGy); and Task 3 (7 mGy). The corresponding interobserver confidence limits were 1, 5, and 10 mGy for Tasks 1, 2, and 3, respectively. There was a fivefold increase in the radiation dose required for detection of lower-density nodules (Tasks 1 to 2). Absence of prior knowledge of the nodule size and density (Task 3) corresponds to a significant increase in the minimum required radiation dose. Significant image degradation and reduction in observer performance for all tasks occur at a dose of ≤1 mGy. It is concluded that the size and attenuation of a nodule strongly influence the radiation dose required for confident evaluation with a minimum threshold value of 1-2 mGy (minimum dose CT). A prior knowledge of nodule size and attenuation is available from the baseline CT scan and is an important consideration in minimizing the radiation exposure required for nodule detection with surveillance CT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3587-3595
Number of pages9
JournalMedical physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • 2AFC test
  • Low-dose CT
  • Lung cancer screening
  • Lung cancer surveillance
  • Multidetector CT
  • Observer performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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