Purpose: Accurate patient-specific photon cross-section information is needed to support more accurate model-based dose calculation for low energy photon-emitting modalities in medicine such as brachytherapy and kilovoltage x-ray imaging procedures. A postprocessing dual-energy CT (pDECT) technique for noninvasive in vivo estimation of photon linear attenuation coefficients has been experimentally implemented on a commercial CT scanner and its accuracy assessed in idealized phantom geometries. Methods: Eight test materials of known composition and density were used to compare pDECT-estimated linear attenuation coefficients to NIST reference values over an energy range from 10 keV to 1 MeV. As statistical image reconstruction (SIR) has been shown to reconstruct images with less random and systematic error than conventional filtered backprojection (FBP), the pDECT technique was implemented with both an in-house polyenergetic SIR algorithm, alternating minimization (AM), as well as a conventional FBP reconstruction algorithm. Improvement from increased spectral separation was also investigated by filtering the high-energy beam with an additional 0.5 mm of tin. The law of propagated uncertainty was employed to assess the sensitivity of the pDECT process to errors in reconstructed images. Results: Mean pDECT-estimated linear attenuation coefficients for the eight test materials agreed within 1% of NIST reference values for energies from 1 MeV down to 30 keV, with mean errors rising to between 3% and 6% at 10 keV, indicating that the method is unbiased when measurement and calibration phantom geometries are matched. Reconstruction with FBP and AM algorithms conferred similar mean pDECT accuracy. However, single-voxel pDECT estimates reconstructed on a 1 × 1 × 3 mm3 grid are shown to be highly sensitive to reconstructed image uncertainty; in some cases pDECT attenuation coefficient estimates exhibited standard deviations on the order of 20% around the mean. Reconstruction with the statistical AM algorithm led to standard deviations roughly 40% to 60% less than FBP reconstruction. Additional tin filtration of the high energy beam exhibits similar pDECT estimation accuracy as the unfiltered beam, even when scanning with only 25% of the dose. Using the law of propagated uncertainty, low Z materials are found to be more sensitive to image reconstruction errors than high Z materials. Furthermore, it is estimated that reconstructed CT image uncertainty must be limited to less than 0.25% to achieve a target linear-attenuation coefficient estimation uncertainty of 3% at 28 keV. Conclusions: That pDECT supports mean linear attenuation coefficient measurement accuracies of 1% of reference values for energies greater than 30 keV is encouraging. However, the sensitivity of the pDECT measurements to noise and systematic errors in reconstructed CT images warrants further investigation in more complex phantom geometries. The investigated statistical reconstruction algorithm, AM, reduced random measurement uncertainty relative to FBP owing to improved noise performance. These early results also support efforts to increase DE spectral separation, which can further reduce the pDECT sensitivity to measurement uncertainty.
- Alternating minimization
- Dual-energy computed tomography
- Filtered backprojection
- Photon attenuation coefficient estimation