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Neck protocol (CT)

Last revised by Dr Joachim Feger on 09 Sep 2021

The CT neck protocol serves as a radiological examination of the head and neck. This protocol is usually performed as a contrast study and might be acquired separately or combined with a CT chest or CT chest-abdomen-pelvis. On rare occasions, it will be performed as a non-contrast study. Depending on the clinical question it might be acquired as double acquisition with a CT angiogram or as a single acquisition e.g with a mono- or biphasic technique.

Note: This article aims to frame a general concept of a CT protocol for the assessment of the head and neck. Protocol specifics will vary depending on CT scanner type, specific hardware and software, radiologist and perhaps referrer preference, patient factors e.g. implants, specific indications.

Contrast doses apply for CT examinations in adults.

A typical CT of the neck might look like as follows:

Typical indications include the following 1-5:

In the setting of inflammatory or neoplastic processes, the purpose of a CT neck is the localization and characterization of the respective process its extent and its relation to the adjacent tissues as well as the detection of potential complications.

The search for a foreign body requires its localization. Because contrast material may pose a confounding factor the examination should be performed as a non-contrast study 1.

In the setting of head and neck trauma, the evaluation includes the detection and characterization of maxillofacial fractures, laryngotracheal injuries, and fractures to the skull base and cervical spine 2,3.

In the setting of thyroid disease, a CT of the neck is usually performed as a non-contrast study and should demonstrate the retrosternal or full extent of the thyroid gland.

  • patient position
    • supine position 
    • both arms next to the body, shoulders pulled down
  • tube voltage
    • ≤120 kVp
  • tube current
    • as suggested by the automated current adjustment mode 
  • scout
    • mid-chest to vertex
  • scan extent
    • frontal sinus to the aortic arch
    • depending on the clinical question might exclude the orbit to save radiation on the eye lens
  • scan direction
    • craniocaudal
  • scan geometry
    • field of view (FOV): 140-200 mm (should be adjusted to increase in-plane resolution)
    • slice thickness: ≤0.75 mm, interval: ≤0.5 mm
    • reconstruction kernel: soft tissue kernel (e.g. I40), high-resolution kernel (e.g. I70)
  • contrast injection considerations
  • non-contrast (e.g. foreign body, thyroid disease)
  • contrast volume:  70-100 mL
  • biphasic injection technique (inflammatory conditions)
    • 50-60 ml contrast media at 1-2 mL/s
    • 40-50 ml contrast media followed by 30-50 ml saline chaser at 2-3 mL/s starting after 60 seconds
    • scan delay: 80-100 seconds
  • monophasic injection technique (parotid tumors)
    • 70-100ml followed by 30-50 ml saline chaser at 2-3 mL/s
    • scan delay: 40-50 seconds
  • respiration phase
    • single breath-hold: inspiration
  • multiplanar reconstructions
    • sagittal images: sagittal aligned through the center of the vertebral bodies and the chin
    • coronal images: coronal aligned to the transverse processes and the mandibula
    • axial images: perpendicular to the head-neck axis
    • slice thickness: soft tissue ≤3 mm, overlap >30%, bone ≤2 mm
  • patient positioning before scanning might reduce and facilitate multiplanar reconstructions
  • reconstructions in both standard kernel and high-resolution kernels
  • in the setting of trauma separate reconstructions of the cervical spine should be obtained from the raw data set
  • place markers in the setting of palpable lumps and bumps
  • depending on the exact indication the scan might require an extension of the scan field
  • dose optimization
    • use iterative reconstruction algorithms if available
    • try to minimize acquisitions (e.g with a biphasic injection protocol)
  • imaging in the setting of implants

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2
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  • Case 3: non-contrast
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