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Med Phys. 2003 Jan;30(1):1-8.

Accuracy of CT-based thickness measurement of thin structures: modeling of limited spatial resolution in all three dimensions.

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  • 1Osteoporosis and Arthritis Research Group, Department of Radiology, University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94117, USA.


Measurement of the width of thin structures such as the cortical shell of the vertebral body or femoral neck with computed tomography (CT) is limited by the spatial resolution of the CT system. Limited spatial resolution exists both within the CT image plane and perpendicular to it and can be described by the in-plane point spread function (PSF) and the across-plane slice sensitivity profile (SSP), respectively. The goal of this study was to confirm that errors of thickness measurement of thin structures critically depend on the spatial positioning of the object and the spatial resolution limitations of CT in all three dimensions, and to assess the size of the errors themselves. We compared computer models that incorporated both effects to experimentally assessed cortical thicknesses of the European Spine Phantom. Analysis included varying CT slice width, the orientation of measurement and angle beta of misalignment of longitudinal scanner and phantom axes. Agreement of models with measurements was good in all configurations with an overall error of 0.17 mm. This showed that PSF and SSP are adequate system characteristics to predict deviation of measured values from true widths. Errors between measurements and true cortical thickness values delta(true) averaged to 1.5 mm were strongly positively correlated with slice width d and beta. When the across-plane partial volume effect was eliminated, limited in-plane resolution still accounted for overestimation of delta(true) by 0.68 (137%), 0.27 (27%), and 0.06 mm (4%) for delta(true)=0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 mm, respectively. For delta(true) of 1.0 mm and above, it was shown that although the absolute cortical thickness values might not be accurately measurable, relative differences between two values are reflected in measurement. Implications for cortical thickness measurement are that the spinal cortical shell is too thin, whereas accurate assessment at locations of the femoral neck exhibiting a thicker cortical shell of both difference and absolute values should be possible with CT even for larger misalignment angles, especially when a smaller CT slice width is chosen.

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