While compressed sensing (CS)-based algorithms have been developed for the low-dose cone beam CT (CBCT) reconstruction, a clear understanding of the relationship between the image quality and imaging dose at low-dose levels is needed. In this paper, we qualitatively investigate this subject in a comprehensive manner with extensive experimental and simulation studies. The basic idea is to plot both the image quality and imaging dose together as functions of the number of projections and mAs per projection over the whole clinically relevant range. On this basis, a clear understanding of the tradeoff between the image quality and imaging dose can be achieved and optimal low-dose CBCT scan protocols can be developed to maximize the dose reduction while minimizing the image quality loss for various imaging tasks in image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). Main findings of this work include (1) under the CS-based reconstruction framework, image quality has little degradation over a large range of dose variation. Image quality degradation becomes evident when the imaging dose (approximated with the x-ray tube load) is decreased below 100 total mAs. An imaging dose lower than 40 total mAs leads to a dramatic image degradation, and thus should be used cautiously. Optimal low-dose CBCT scan protocols likely fall in the dose range of 40-100 total mAs, depending on the specific IGRT applications. (2) Among different scan protocols at a constant low-dose level, the super sparse-view reconstruction with the projection number less than 50 is the most challenging case, even with strong regularization. Better image quality can be acquired with low mAs protocols. (3) The optimal scan protocol is the combination of a medium number of projections and a medium level of mAs/view. This is more evident when the dose is around 72.8 total mAs or below and when the ROI is a low-contrast or high-resolution object. Based on our results, the optimal number of projections is around 90 to 120. (4) The clinically acceptable lowest imaging dose level is task dependent. In our study, 72.8 mAs is a safe dose level for visualizing low-contrast objects, while 12.2 total mAs is sufficient for detecting high-contrast objects of diameter greater than 3 mm.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging