Study Design. The use of lumbar fusion cages to augment interbody arthrodesis has become popular. Previous studies have shown that titanium cages may obscure information within and around the cage, confounding assessments of fusion. Densitometry within cages, if possible, could be an important outcome variable for comparing different cage augmented fusion treatments.
Objective. The purpose of this feasibility study was to (1) validate CT-based (computer tomography-based) density evaluations within titanium cages in a phantom model, and (2) demonstrate that intrametal cage lucencies can be produced by CT reconstruction artifacts and do not necessarily represent bone fragmentation or fibrous and cartilaginous tissue.
Methods. An anthropomorphic lumbar spine phantom was used. Dual titanium cages were inserted into 6 anterior-middle column replicas, and the cages were filled with 10, 100, or 400 mg/cc hydoxyapatiite equivalent material. The column replicas were composed of either fibrous/cartilaginous tissue equivalent material or trabecular bone equivalent material. Column replicas were placed within the phantom and imaged with CT. Direct axial and reformatted sagittal and coronal images were evaluated for artifact. Region of interest analysis was performed for intracage density.
Results. Intracage CT values calculated from axial, sagittal, and coronal images were directly related to the true CT values of the materials (r = 0.99, P < 0.0001). CT was used to distinguish between fibrous tissue and bone within cages. CT values within cages overestimated the intracage materials' true values (paired t test, P < 0.001). Intracage CT values were correctable and could be converted to bone mineral content. Intracage CT values were not affected by adjacent anterior-middle column material differences (fibrous/cartilaginous tissue vs. trabecular bone) (paired t test, P > 0.05). Lucent streaking within and adjacent to cages was similar to clinical images.
Conclusion. In this phantom-based study, densitometry was performed within titanium cages, even in the presence of CT artifact. These results support further pursuit of this potential assessment tool.