Histogram analysis for characterization of indeterminate adrenal nodules on noncontrast CT

Michael F. Lin, Lauren Q. Chang-Sen, Jay Heiken, Thomas K. Pilgram, Kyongtae T. Bae

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the effectiveness of the CT histogram method to characterize indeterminate adrenal nodules above 10 Hounsfield units (HU) on noncontrast CT. Materials and methods: Retrospective review of clinical CT data from January 2005 through 2008 identified 194 indeterminate adrenal nodules (>10 HU on noncontrast CT) in 175 patients. 20 nodules in 18 patients were excluded due to large standard deviation (SD > 30) of HU values. Of the remaining 174 nodules, 131 were classified as benign lipid-poor nodules based on size stability for ≥1 year (104), in- and opposed-phase MRI (17), adrenal washout CT (3), or biopsy (7). 43 were classified as malignant by size increase over a short time (30), avid FDG uptake on PET/CT (15), or biopsy (5). Histogram analysis was performed by drawing a circular region of interest on all adrenal nodules. Mean attenuation, total number of pixels, number of negative pixels, and percentage of negative pixels were recorded for each nodule. Results: At the threshold value of >10% negative pixels, 59/131 benign nodules were correctly characterized, but 1/43 malignant nodules was falsely characterized as benign (sensitivity 45%, specificity 98%, positive predictive value 98%). With a slightly higher threshold value of >15% negative pixels, there were no false benign judgments. 36 nodules had more than 15% negative pixels, all of which were benign (sensitivity 27%, specificity 100%, positive predictive value 100%). In the subgroup of benign nodules measuring 11–20 HU, 80% and 54% were identified with threshold values of >10% and >15% negative pixels, respectively. Conclusion: The CT histogram method with a threshold value of >10% negative pixels can identify many benign adrenal nodules with attenuation values >10 HU on unenhanced CT with extremely high specificity. A threshold of >15% negative pixels can achieve 100% specificity. This method is highly robust provided very “noisy” CT examinations (SD > 30) are eliminated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1666-1674
Number of pages9
JournalAbdominal Imaging
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 12 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adrenal nodules
  • CT
  • CT noise
  • Histogram analysis
  • Negative pixels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Medicine(all)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Urology
  • Gastroenterology


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