The Value of Oral Contrast from the patient’s point of view

Oral Contrast

The authors raise this question from a patient-centered approach: “What would patients choose if given the option to drink or not drink oral contrast material, and why? Some patients might prefer a risk-averse approach and prioritize diagnostic accuracy, whereas other patients might prefer a comfort-based approach and prioritize examination comfort. Asking patients how they value these trade-offs can inform an optimal imaging strategy.”

Modern oral contrast (diluted Omnipaque) is tasteless and odorless. Most patients think they are drinking water. But, it significantly increases diagnostic accuracy, particularly in cases involving GI questions.

These authors concluded, “If oral contrast material has any diagnostic benefit, most outpatients (89%) would rather drink it than accept any risk for missing an important finding.”

Patients’ awareness of radiation dose and risks associated with medical imaging

In this article, the authors discuss how awareness of dose and risks of medical imaging by patients can facilitate shared decision making and reduce unnecessary radiation exposure.

Revolution CT Scanner at UW Medical Center Department of Radiology


Adopting Best Practices for CT Radiation Dose Monitoring

In this article, the research conducted by University of Washington Radiology Fellow Dr. Achille Mileto and colleagues highlight the importance of dose monitoring, but also the challenges: “Successful efforts to reduce overall radiation doses may actually direct attention away from other critical pieces of information that have so far been underappreciated, namely the widespread variability in global radiation dose values across clinical operation volumes.” … “These data may provide a foundation for the future development of best-practice guidelines for patient-specific radiation dose monitoring.”

Dr. Achille Mileto from the University of Washington

“We are kind of obsessed with radiation dose reduction, but I think we should keep in our minds the concept of radiation dose optimization, which means trying to adjust the dose to the specific clinical task,” Mileto said. “With technology we are reducing the dose, but we are increasing the room for variability. This is great if you are consistently reducing the dose, but we really want to understand what’s going on in terms of variability. So I think the main lesson is to try to develop best-practice guidelines for patient-specific radiation dose monitoring. I think basically the scenario in the near-term future will be to create some kind of shared library for radiation doses.”

CT colonography

Using model-based iterative reconstruction, CT colonography can be a very low radiation dose method of screening. This article applauds the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) approval, cited as a “big win for patients.”

Decreasing radiation dose in CT for COPD patients

Study concludes that ultralow-dose CT may substitute for standard-dose CT in some COPD patients

There are at least three different generations of iterative reconstruction, all of which enable substantial CT dose reductions without compromise of diagnostic power. While earlier versions of IR yielded 30% dose reductions, those with model-based IR or some blend thereof can result in 50-80% patient radiation dose reductions – with even better spatial and low contrast resolution. Access the full article on this study.

Reducing dose via iterative reconstruction technology

As this article demonstrates, iterative reconstruction is a very powerful way to reduce dose without impacting diagnostic ability. Key points of the authors include, “To reduce patient and operator radiation dose involves optimization of medical imaging equipment and best control of the equipment by the operator. … The results of our study confirm in a large patient number reflecting the routine clinical setting that the image noise reduction technology allows a significant reduction in radiation dose.  … The substantially lower radiation dosage achieved in a routine clinical setting with the image noise reduction technique, provide further evidence of the substantial impact of the new technology. They indicate potential reduction in radiation dosage in invasive and interventional cardiology with more diffusion of newer radiation technology in clinical practice.”

Novel iterative reconstruction method for reducing CT dose

All iterative reconstruction techniques powerfully reduce CT radiation dose in the 40-80% range – without compromising diagnostic power. And they all continue to be refined and to evolve, as this article illustrates. While the “look” of CT images may change from the noise removal, the diagnostic power is not compromised despite the substantial dose reduction. As radiologists, working with change is our future. The old days of nothing but filtered back projection are in our history but not in our future.

Should cumulative radiation dose be tracked?

Guest blog by Kalpana M. Kanal, PhD, Direc­tor of Diag­nos­tic Physics Sec­tion and Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­ogy at Uni­ver­sity of Washington

In a recent article published online1, the authors state in their introduction that radiation dose risk is cumulative and an increasing number of patients are undergoing multiple follow-up procedures at regular intervals. Is cumulative dose of concern in patients who have repeated scans? The jury is still out on this question. There is support for tracking cumulative dose2 as well as thought that cumulative dose should not be given any importance when making decisions about individual patients3, 4.

Radiation risk is based on the linear no-threshold model which states that all radiation exposure carries some risk but these need to be weighed against the benefits of the radiation exposure. This linear relationship implies that irrespective of which CT scan a patient is receiving, the absolute risk is the same. There is no increase in sensitivity from the increasing dose received from repeated CT scans, only an accumulation of probability. The linear no-threshold model would break down and not make any sense if there was an increase in sensitivity from repeated scans.

Consider the analogy of driving to work every day which has a risk of a fatal automobile accident associated with it. We do not keep track of the number of times we have driven in the past and its influence on whether we drive tomorrow or not. Similarly, as far as medical decisions are concerned, cumulative dose should not play a factor in deciding if a CT scan should be ordered or not. The benefit of getting the CT may far outweigh the risks. Also, individual risks are hard to quantify as all our risk models are based on large population data.

It is very important that we do not misuse the patient history information about previous scans to influence our medical decision today. Educating the physicians and the public on this is paramount to avoid such misuse.


  1. Roobottom CA and Loader R. Virtual Special Issue Radiation dose reduction in CT: dose optimisation gains both increasing importance and complexity! Clinical Radiology, 2016; 71(5): 438–441.
  2. Sodickson A, Baeyens PF, Andriole KP, et al. Recurrent CT, cumulative radiation exposure, and associated radiation-induced cancer risks from CT of adults. Radiology 2009; 251: 175-84.
  3. Durrand DJ, Dixon RL, Morin RL. Utilization Strategies for Cumulative Dose Estimates: A Review and Rational Assessment. Journal of the American College or Radiology 2012; 9: 480-485.
  4. Eisenberg JD, Benjamin Harvey HD, Moore DA et al. Falling Prey to the Sunk Cost Bias: A Potential Harm of Patient Radiation Dose Histories. Radiology: 2012; 263(3): 626-628.

Low-dose Radiation

Low-dose Radiation Not Harmful

To quote the American Association of Physicists in Medicine:

  • The risk from medical diagnostic radiation in doses below 50 mSv as a single dose or 100 mSv as a cumulative dose is too small to be measured and may be non-existent.
UW Medicine Physicists

UW Medicine Physicists

The value of CT imaging in clinical decision making

This article illustrates two key points:

  1. CT information is particularly impactful in the ER environment where they need correct diagnoses quickly in order to initiate therapy and triage patients safely from crowded facilities.
  2. Dual energy CT provides incremental diagnostic information in the ER setting but without any incremental radiation dose – so using it routinely for certain indications may be effective.
CT Scanner at UW Medicine

CT Scanner at UW Medicine

Detection of pulmonary nodules with low-dose CT and iterative reconstruction

This article illustrates how much good diagnostic information can be obtained using very low CT radiation doses when screening for lung nodules.

In the screening environment, doing no harm is especially important since so many patients are screened. But detection rates cannot suffer.

Here is encouragement that we can meet both goals with very low dose CT combined with iterative reconstruction.

Low-dose CT enterography

This article pretty well confirms what many have felt: model-based iterative reconstruction (MBIR) lowers radiation dose by 70-80% compared to adaptive statistical iterative reconstruction (ASIR), without loss of diagnostic power/information. While the images do indeed look different because there is much less noise and because of a slightly different pattern in the remaining noise, all the findings are there. Further, the anatomy and the findings are displayed as well or better.

So, in a young patient (under age 45) – especially if they are likely to be getting multiple exams – use of model-based iterative reconstruction is well worth the longer reconstruction time.

(To read more about CT enterography, is a great resource for patients.)

Gentle and wise use of CT radiation dose

This comprehensive article demonstrates the importance of CT dose monitoring and utilizing strategies to achieve ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) doses while maintaining image quality for optimal clinical diagnosis. The authors also describe how the use of technology can improve the radiation dose efficiency of CT scanners.

The importance of dose alerts

At UW Medicine, we use a dose alert system built into DoseWatch (GE Healthcare) as well as in the individual CT scanners. While this is a good safety mechanism to prevent accidents and notice high dose exams, it’s not the whole answer. As this article points out, “… in practice, CT technique and therefore patient dose depends very much on patient size.”

Size specific dose exposure (SSDE) is a better measure which we will be hearing more about in the near future.


Low radiation dose without compromise of image quality

This article illustrates that Radiologists’ perceptions of image quality and content change as they become accustomed – over time –  to the different noise pattern of the various types of iterative reconstruction.

In fact, no spatial resolution or low contrast resolution is lost with iterative reconstruction techniques – and diagnostic power is maintained.

Our work here at UW Medicine agrees with this report.

And it is important to know this because iterative reconstruction can result in 30%-60% dose reduction for all types of CT, without loss of diagnostic power.

Annual screening for lung cancer low-dose CT

This is a major advance as American healthcare evolves from reactive to preventive.

But a key to success in this lung cancer screening program is keeping the radiation dose of each exam as low as possible – certainly well below one mSv. Ideally, a low dose approach would involve model based or some other form of iterative reconstruction. All the other techniques to minimize dose should be employed together. Fortunately, this is an application where very low kVp will work well (70-100).

Next – and possibly even more impactful: coverage for screening CT colonography.

Reducing radiation dose in diagnostic CT of the abdomen

Here’s a neat trick for dose reduction in appendicitis CT cases – which often are done in young patients.

It falls into the general category of only scanning as much Z-axis length as is needed to address a given indication –  and no more.

Lowering radiation dose without affecting diagnostic confidence

Guest blog by Kalpana M. Kanal, PhD, Director of Diagnostic Physics Section and Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology at University of Washington

How low can we go in radiation dose without affecting diagnostic confidence for detection of low-contrast liver lesions?

In a recent article we published, we studied the impact of incremental increases in CT image noise on detection of low-contrast hypodense liver lesions. Clinical CT liver exams were obtained on a 64-slice CT scanner using automatic tube current modulation at a routine clinical noise index 15.   An artificial image noise addition tool was used to increase the noise level in clinical liver CT images to simulate 75% (NI 17.4), 50% (NI 21.2), and 25% patient radiation dose (NI 29.7) scanning relative to the original images (NI 15.0; 100% dose).  The images were reviewed by radiologists of varying experience who subjectively scored lesion detectability on all the images, original and simulated.

We concluded that there is little loss of detection sensitivity for low-contrast liver lesion detectability of CT exams scanned with a NI at least up to 21.2 compared to a NI of 15, a patient radiation dose reduction of 50%. No significant degradation was observed when reader performance was evaluated as a function of lesion size (>10 mm) and contrast (>60 HU) at 90% sensitivity.  When lesion size dropped to <10 mm or contrast was <60 HU, sensitivity did drop to 85%.

This study had some limitations, the most important of which was that this study was a simulation and not a true study of CT scanning at lower radiation dose compared to high dose scanning which would have involved scanning patients multiple times. Nevertheless, this study was important as it demonstrated that dose could be reduced by 50% without affecting diagnostic confidence for detecting low-contrast liver lesions.

Achieving appropriate radiation dose for coronary CT angiography

This is an interesting addition to the sophistication of systematic lowering of kVp during CT coronary angiography. Of course, such sophistication strongly supports 30% dose reduction without compromising diagnostic power.

Low-dose CT technique in diagnosing Crohn’s disease

Patients with Crohn’s disease often are young and often have their disease activity assessed repeatedly with CT – though MR is used more frequently now as well.

So – they are good candidates for reducing radiation dose by means of iterative reconstruction.

This paper demonstrates that considerable reduction of dose can be achieved without damaging image quality.

Lowering medical radiation dose with CT and other modalities in cancer patients

It is often said that radiation from diagnostic imaging is not an important issue in cancer patients.

But this report suggests otherwise – as expressed by oncologists.

Many patients with cancer are young and/or are being treated for cure. Many have long life expectancies despite having cancer.

And the basic principal of “Do no harm” plus that of ALARA still apply – as much to cancer patients as to any other patient with a serious disease.

So we should be striving for maximal diagnostic information from minimal radiation dose with CT and other modalities in cancer patients, too.

Study Offers Promising Benefits for Iterative Reconstruction

At UW, we are outspoken for our support of adaptive statistical iterative reconstruction (ASIR).  As a big proponent of the method, I find this write-up from Radiology to be a landmark article, and the research it highlights, very impressive work.

A team of researchers recently confirmed that iterative reconstruction allows significant CT radiation dose reductions for patients undergoing urolithiasis imaging, without unintended decreased image quality or diagnostic confidence.

Urolithiasis is a common condition, with high likelihood (estimated at 75 percent) of recurrence amongst individuals diagnosed. Therefore, imaging scans are a regularity for those patients with the disease. It is important to treat these patients with the lowest radiation dose possible, as to alleviate fear of potentially excessive radiation.

For the 25 patients involved in the study, image quality was significantly boosted by adding iterative reconstruction, while dose was reduced by about 85 percent, thanks to the ultra-low dose. While previous studies report substantial degradations in imaging quality, 80 percent of the images acquired in this study had suboptimal image quality.

This study is just further evidence of the promising benefit of ASIR. I firmly believe that every imaging site with access to the protocol should use it regularly as to lower dose by 80 percent in frequently performed exams.

To learn more about iterative reconstruction, please click here!

Patients Want To Know About Radiation Risks

A new study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology concluded that patients from the emergency department are more concerned about having their condition diagnosed with CT than about the risk of future cancer from radiation exposure.

Although the patients in this study did not estimate the risk of development of cancer as high, the majority of patients wanted someone to discuss the risk and benefits of testing them. This is not as simple as it sounds. How do we best educate patients about radiation? Who is responsible for educating patients about risks and benefits of radiation exposure from CT – the ordering provider, the radiologist, or the CT technologist?

Right now it seems that nobody is doing such education likely due to time constraints and the fact that it is a difficult topic to discuss.  There is no standardized way to discuss radiation with patients and research shows that many physicians don’t fully understand radiation, radiation doses from common tests or possible risks from exposure to radiation from medical imaging. This is a topic that is not going away. We know what our patients want and need, it’s up to us as their healthcare providers to deliver.

CT Scans CAN Be Cost Effective (and Save Lives) in Emergency Situations

A recent study found that the use of CT scanners and other advanced imaging machines in U.S. hospital emergency departments “tripled between 1998 and 2007, resulting in higher costs and longer emergency room stays,” according to an article by blogger Julie Steenhuysen.

Lead researcher Dr. Frederick Korley of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore said his team noticed “a really significant increase [in usage] without a corresponding increase in the diagnosis of life-threatening illness.” He said this suggest that there is a “potential amount of overuse or use that is not directly yielding any meaningful clinical results.”

Actually, the use of all CT and MR from any source more than doubled during that time period.

Emergency rooms are under great pressure to diagnose or rule out serious conditions quickly, since every ER in the country is swamped with patients – many of whom cannot get to other forms of care. What is inappropriate in some settings may be appropriate in the ER setting.

In our study of patients with low-risk chest pain who had a cardiac CT early in their ER visit, patients were discharged 20 hours faster and with a 40 percent cost reduction compared to similar patients who had a workup without cardiac CT.

So it really depends on the indication.