Impact of pixel value truncation on image quality of low dose chest CT

Akira Hasegawa, Toshihiro Ishihara, Tinsu Pan, Alan M. Ropp, Michael Winkler, Michael B. Sneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: In some noisy low dose CT lung cancer screening images, we noticed that the CT density values of air were increased and the visibility of emphysema was distinctly decreased. By examining histograms of these images, we found that the CT density values were truncated at −1024 HU. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of pixel value truncation on the visibility of emphysema using mathematical models. Methods and materials: Assuming CT noise follows a normal distribution, we derived the relationship between the mean CT density value and the standard deviation (SD) when the pixel values below −1024 HU are truncated and replaced by −1024 HU. To validate our mathematical model, 20 untruncated phantom CT images were truncated by simulation, and the mean CT density values and SD of air in the images were measured and compared with the theoretical values. In addition, the mean CT density values and SD of air were measured in 100 cases of real clinical images obtained by GE, Siemens, and Philips scanners, respectively, and the agreement with the theoretical values was examined. Next, the contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) between air (−1000 HU) and lung parenchyma (−850 HU) was derived from the mathematical model in the presence and absence of truncation as a measure of the visibility of emphysema. In addition, the radiation dose ratios required to obtain the same CNR in the case with and without truncation were also calculated. Results: The mathematical model revealed that when the pixel values are truncated, the mean CT density values are proportional to the noise magnitude when the magnitude exceeds a certain level. The mean CT density values and SD measured in the images with pixel values truncated by simulation and in the real clinical images acquired by GE and Philips scanners agreed well with the theoretical values from our mathematical model. In the Siemens images, the measured and theoretical values agreed well when a portion of the truncated values were replaced by random values instead of simply replacing by −1024 HU. The CNR of air and lung parenchyma was lowered by truncating CT density values compared to that of no truncation. Furthermore, it was found that higher radiation dose was required to obtain the same CNR with truncation as without. As an example, when the noise SD was 60 HU, the radiation dose required for the GE and Philips truncation method was about 1.2 times higher than that without truncation, and that for the Siemens truncation method was about 1.4 times higher. Conclusions: It was demonstrated mathematically that pixel value truncation causes a brightening of the mean CT density value and decreases the CNR of emphysema. Our results indicate that it is advisable to turn off truncation at −1024 HU, especially when scanning at low and ultra-low radiation doses in the thorax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2979-2994
Number of pages16
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • emphysema
  • low dose CT
  • pixel value truncation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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