ROC and LROC analyses of the effects of lesion contrast, size, and signal-to-noise ratio on detectability in PET images

Thomas H. Farquhar, Jorge Llacer, James Sayre, Yuan Chuan Tai, Edward J. Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Image quality in PET is typically assessed using measures such as contrast recovery, noise variation, and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). However, these criteria do not directly reflect performance in the clinical use of the images. Lesion detection is a critical task in the clinical interpretation of many PET studies. A receiver operating characteristic (ROC) study is an accepted method for quantitatively evaluating detection performance with respect to factors that influence image quality. ROC and localization ROC (LROC) analyses were conducted to investigate the effects of lesion contrast, SNR, and size on detectability of hot lesions in PET images. Methods: A thorax phantom was imaged with spheres of 3 sizes simulating lesions (0.45, 1.0, and 1.9 mL). The relative activity in the lesions and the total number of counts acquired were each varied by factors of 2 to ascertain the effects of contrast and SNR, respectively. Measured attenuation correction and a standard reconstruction protocol were used. Three nuclear medicine physicians and 6 medical physicists participated as readers, rating each image and indicating the suspected lesion location. The area under the calculated RQC and LROC curves (A(z) and A(z,LROC)) were used as measures of detection performance. Results: Detection performance was shown to increase from virtually random (A(z) ~ 0.5, A(z,LROC) ~ 0.2) to superior (A(z) > 0.9, A(z,LROC) > 0.9) as lesion contrast was increased by 50% and as lesion SNR was doubled. Detection performance was not seen to vary when comparison was made using image-based measures alone. Conclusion: This study quantitatively shows that moderate increases in the image-based measures of lesion contrast and SNR give a relatively large increase in the task-based measure of lesion detection as measured by ROC and LROC analyses. Thus, techniques that give modest increases in lesion contrast or SNR are expected to improve detection. Results will be useful in evaluating improvement in detection for various reconstruction, acquisition, and data analysis methods that enhance contrast or noise performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-754
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nuclear Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2000


  • Contrast
  • Lesion detection
  • Receiver operating characteristic analysis
  • Signal-to-noise ratio


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