We analyze the peculiar technical features of virtual endoscopy obtained with volume rendering.
Our preliminary experience is based on virtual endoscopy images from volumetric data acquired with spiral CT (Siemens, Somatom Plus 4) using acquisition protocols standardized for different anatomic areas. Images are reformatted at the CT console, to obtain 1 mm thick contiguous slices, and transferred in DICOM format to an O2 workstation (Silicon Graphics, Mountain View CA, USA) with processor speed of 180 Mhz, 256 Mbyte RAM memory and 4.1 Gbyte hard disk. The software is Vitrea 1.0 (Vital Images, Fairfield, Iowa), running on a Unix platform. Image output is obtained through the Ethernet network to a Macintosh computer and a thermic printer (Kodak 8600 XLS).
Diagnostic quality images were obtained in all the cases. Fly-through in the airways allowed correct evaluation of the main bronchi and of the origin of segmentary bronchi. In the vascular district, both carotid strictures and abdominal aortic aneurysms were depicted, with the same accuracy as with conventional reconstruction techniques. In the colon studies, polypoid lesions were correctly depicted in all the cases, with good correlation with endoscopic and double-contrast barium enema findings. In a case of lipoma of the ascending colon, virtual endoscopy allowed to study the colon both cranially and caudally to the lesion. The simultaneous evaluation of axial CT images permitted to characterize the lesion correctly on the basis of its density values.
The peculiar feature of volume rendering is the use of the whole information inside the imaging volume to reconstruct three-dimensional images; no threshold values are used and no data are lost as opposite to conventional image reconstruction techniques. The different anatomic structures are visualized modifying the reciprocal opacities, showing the structures of no interest as translucent. The modulation of different opacities is obtained modifying the shape of the opacity curve, either using pre-set curves or in a completely independent way. Other technical features of volume rendering are the perspective evaluation of the objects, color and lighting. In conclusion, volume rendering is a promising technique to elaborate three-dimensional images, offering very realistic endoscopic views. At present, the main limitation is represented by the need of powerful and high-cost workstations.