"Black Hole Artifacts"-A New Potential Pitfall for DXA Accuracy?

Academic Article


  • Certain types of metallic objects apparently have high attenuation (a white image) on dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan images, but instead show up as black (black hole artifacts). When small, these artifacts may easily be missed on visual inspection. We hypothesized that such "black hole" artifacts could have a significant effect on bone mineral density (BMD) results. Human use approval (Institutional Review Board [IRB]) was obtained to publish patient scans and an IRB waiver was obtained for nonhuman research. We placed individual surgical clips and cassettes of clips of tantalum, stainless steel and titanium, and a bullet over the third lumbar vertebra (L3) of a Hologic spine phantom. In addition, 4 or 8 individual tantalum or stainless steel clips and tantalum squares were placed over L3 of cadaveric spines (high-density spine L1-L4 BMD = 1.049 g/cm2) and low-density spine BMD (L1-L4 BMD = 0.669 g/cm2) with attached soft tissues. Stainless steel and titanium clips scanned as white objects with DXA. A bullet and tantalum clips scanned black (black holes). All clip types were visible on single-energy scans as white objects. Eight tantalum clips significantly lowered L3 BMD compared to 4 or 0 clips in the high-density spine. There were no significant differences in BMD L1-L4 between 0, 4, and 8 tantalum clips in the high-density spine. In the low-density spine, 8 tantalum clips over L3 had significantly lower BMD compared to 4 tantalum clips overlying L3 and 4 clips lateral to L3 and 4 clips over L3. All of these scenarios had lower L3 BMD than no tantalum clips overlying L3. The BMD of L1-L4 was lowest with 8 clips at L3, but was not significantly different than no clips overlying L3. Eight tantalum clips lateral to L3 was significantly higher than no clips over L3. Black hole artifacts can occur in DXA scans containing certain metals like tantalum surgical clips. Although these surgical clips could decrease BMD at a localized area, they do not significantly decrease the L1-L4 spine BMD in a high-density spine specimen. In a low-density spine specimen, tantalum clips do have the potential to alter BMD of a single vertebral body and L1-L4. Attention should be paid to the possibility of black hole artifacts on DXA scans and the effect they may have on spine results. Viewing scans in the single-energy mode can be used to verify the presence of tantalum clips. © 2008 The International Society for Clinical Densitometry.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Morgan SL; Lopez-Ben R; Nunnally N; Burroughs L; Fineberg N; Tubbs RS; Yester MV
  • Start Page

  • 266
  • End Page

  • 275
  • Volume

  • 11
  • Issue

  • 2