The aim of the article was to evaluate the lesion detectability, image quality, and radiation dose of a dedicated clinical spiral breast computed tomography (CT) system equipped with a photon-counting detector, and to propose optimal scan parameter settings to achieve low patient dose levels and optimal image quality.
A breast phantom containing inserts mimicking microcalcifications (diameters 196, 290, and 400 μm) and masses (diameters 1.8, 3.18, 4.76, and 6.32 mm) was examined in a spiral breast CT system with systematic variations of x-ray tube currents between 5 and 125 mA, using 2 slabs of 100 and 160 mm. Signal-to-noise ratio and contrast-to-noise ratio measurements were performed by region of interest analysis. Two experienced radiologists assessed the detectability of the inserts. The average absorbed dose was calculated in Monte Carlo simulations.
Microcalcifications in diameters of 290 and 400 μm and masses in diameters of 3.18, 4.76, and 6.32 mm were visible for all tube currents between 5 and 125 mA. Soft tissue masses in a diameter of 1.8 mm were visible at tube currents of 25 mA and higher. Microcalcifications with a diameter of 196 μm were detectable at a tube current of 25 mA and higher in the small, and at a tube current of 40 mA and higher in the large slab. For the small and large breast, at a tube current of 25 and 40 mA, an average dose value of 4.30 ± 0.01 and 5.70 ± 0.02 mGy was calculated, respectively.
Optimizing tube current of spiral breast CT according to the breast size enables the visualization of microcalcifications as small as 196 μm while keeping dose values in the range of conventional mammography.