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Thousands of cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scanners for vascular, maxillofacial, neurological, and body imaging are in clinical use today, but there is no consensus on uniform acceptance and constancy testing for image quality (IQ) and dose yet. The authors developed a quality assurance (QA) framework for fully automated and time-efficient performance evaluation of these systems. In addition, the dependence of objective Fourier-based IQ metrics on direction and position in 3D volumes was investigated for CBCT.

The authors designed a dedicated QA phantom 10 cm in length consisting of five compartments, each with a diameter of 10 cm, and an optional extension ring 16 cm in diameter. A homogeneous section of water-equivalent material allows measuring CT value accuracy, image noise and uniformity, and multidimensional global and local noise power spectra (NPS). For the quantitative determination of 3D high-contrast spatial resolution, the modulation transfer function (MTF) of centrally and peripherally positioned aluminum spheres was computed from edge profiles. Additional in-plane and axial resolution patterns were used to assess resolution qualitatively. The characterization of low-contrast detectability as well as CT value linearity and artifact behavior was tested by utilizing sections with soft-tissue-equivalent and metallic inserts. For an automated QA procedure, a phantom detection algorithm was implemented. All tests used in the dedicated QA program were initially verified in simulation studies and experimentally confirmed on a clinical dental CBCT system.

The automated IQ evaluation of volume data sets of the dental CBCT system was achieved with the proposed phantom requiring only one scan for the determination of all desired parameters. Typically, less than 5 min were needed for phantom set-up, scanning, and data analysis. Quantitative evaluation of system performance over time by comparison to previous examinations was also verified. The maximum percentage interscan variation of repeated measurements was less than 4% and 1.7% on average for all investigated quality criteria. The NPS-based image noise differed by less than 5% from the conventional standard deviation approach and spatially selective 10% MTF values were well comparable to subjective results obtained with 3D resolution pattern. Determining only transverse spatial resolution and global noise behavior in the central field of measurement turned out to be insufficient.

The proposed framework transfers QA routines employed in conventional CT in an advanced version to CBCT for fully automated and time-efficient evaluation of technical equipment. With the modular phantom design, a routine as well as an expert version for assessing IQ is provided. The QA program can be used for arbitrary CT units to evaluate 3D imaging characteristics automatically.


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