Purpose: Because of high diagnostic accuracy and fast scan time, computed tomography (CT) has been widely used in various clinical applications. Since the CT scan introduces radiation exposure to patients, however, dose reduction has recently been recognized as an important issue in CT imaging. However, low-dose CT causes an increase of noise in the image and thereby deteriorates the accuracy of diagnosis. In this paper, the authors develop an efficient denoising algorithm for low-dose CT images obtained using a polychromatic x-ray source. The algorithm is based on two steps: (i) estimation of space variant noise statistics, which are uniquely determined according to the system geometry and scanned object, and (ii) subsequent novel conversion of the estimated noise to Gaussian noise so that an existing high performance Gaussian noise filtering algorithm can be directly applied to CT images with non-Gaussian noise.
Methods: For efficient polychromatic CT image denoising, the authors first reconstruct an image with the iterative maximum-likelihood polychromatic algorithm for CT to alleviate the beam-hardening problem. We then estimate the space-variant noise variance distribution on the image domain. Since there are many high performance denoising algorithms available for the Gaussian noise, image denoising can become much more efficient if they can be used. Hence, the authors propose a novel conversion scheme to transform the estimated space-variant noise to near Gaussian noise. In the suggested scheme, the authors first convert the image so that its mean and variance can have a linear relationship, and then produce a Gaussian image via variance stabilizing transform. The authors then apply a block matching 4D algorithm that is optimized for noise reduction of the Gaussian image, and reconvert the result to obtain a final denoised image. To examine the performance of the proposed method, an XCAT phantom simulation and a physical phantom experiment were conducted.
Results: Both simulation and experimental results show that, unlike the existing denoising algorithms, the proposed algorithm can effectively reduce the noise over the whole region of CT images while preventing degradation of image resolution.
Conclusions: To effectively denoise polychromatic low-dose CT images, a novel denoising algorithm is proposed. Because this algorithm is based on the noise statistics of a reconstructed polychromatic CT image, the spatially varying noise on the image is effectively reduced so that the denoised image will have homogeneous quality over the image domain. Through a simulation and a real experiment, it is verified that the proposed algorithm can deliver considerably better performance compared to the existing denoising algorithms. (C) 2016 American Association of Physicists in Medicine.