Contrast-enhancement influences skeletal muscle density, but not skeletal muscle mass, measurements on computed tomography

Jeroen L.A. van Vugt*, Robert R.J. Coebergh van den Braak, Henk J.W. Schippers, Kevin M. Veen, Stef Levolger, Ron W.F. de Bruin, Marcel Koek, Wiro J. Niessen, Jan N.M. IJzermans, François E.J.A. Willemsen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    52 Citations (Scopus)


    Background & aims: Low skeletal muscle mass and density have recently been discovered as prognostic and predictive parameters to guide interventions in various populations, including cancer patients. The gold standard for body composition analysis in cancer patients is computed tomography (CT). To date, the effect of contrast-enhancement on muscle composition measurements has not been established. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of contrast-enhancement on skeletal muscle mass and density measurements on four-phase CT studies. Design: In this observational study, two observers measured cross-sectional skeletal muscle area corrected for patients' height (skeletal muscle index [SMI]) and density (SMD) at the level of the third lumbar vertebra on 50 randomly selected CT examinations with unenhanced, arterial, and portal-venous phases. The levels of agreement between enhancement phases for SMI and SMD were calculated using intra-class correlation coefficients (ICCs). Results: Mean SMI was 42.5 (±9.9) cm2/m2 on the unenhanced phase, compared with 42.8 (±9.9) and 43.6 (±9.9) cm2/m2 for the arterial and portal-venous phase, respectively (both p < 0.01). Mean SMD was lower for the unenhanced phase (30.9 ± 8.0 Hounsfield units [HU]) compared with the arterial (38.0 ± 9.9 HU) and portal-venous (38.7 ± 9.2 HU) phase (both p < 0.001). No significant difference was found between SMD in the portal-venous and arterial phase (p = 0.161). The ICCs were excellent (≥0.992) for all SMIs and for SMD between the contrast-enhanced phases (0.949). The ICCs for the unenhanced phase compared with the arterial (0.676) and portal-venous (0.665) phase were considered fair to good. Conclusions: Statistically significant differences in SMI were observed between different enhancement phases. However, further work is needed to assess the clinical relevance of these small differences. Contrast-enhancement strongly influenced SMD values. Studies using this measure should therefore use the portal-venous phase of contrast-enhanced CT examinations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1707-1714
    JournalClinical Nutrition
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • Computed tomography
    • Contrast-enhancement
    • Sarcopenia
    • Skeletal muscle density
    • Skeletal muscle mass


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