OBJECTIVES--To compare the usefulness of high resolution computed tomography (HRCT) with chest radiography (CR) in the diagnosis and assessment of severity of silicosis. METHODS--27 workers exposed to silica underwent CR, HRCT, and pulmonary function tests. Two experienced readers independently evaluated CR by International Labour Office classification, and grouped the results into four categories. HRCT categories of nodule profusion and the extent of emphysema were graded on a four point scale; in 20 subjects the percentage distribution of lung densities were measured by HRCT. RESULTS--Concordance between readers was higher for HRCT than for CR (K statistic = 0.49 and 0.29 respectively). There was poor concordance between CR and HRCT in the early stage of silicosis. No significant difference in pulmonary function tests was found among different CR categories, but forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), maximal expiratory flow at 50% and 75% of FVC (MEF50, MEF75), and diffusion capacity significantly decreased with increasing HRCT categories. Subjects with simple silicosis detected by HRCT had a lower FEV1 than subjects without silicosis, whereas subjects with conglomerated silicosis showed higher residual volume and functional residual capacity than subjects with simple silicosis. These relations were not affected by smoking or symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Different grades of emphysema detected by HRCT were significantly different in diffusion capacity. Only the HRCTs of the lowest and the highest categories of profusion of parenchymal opacities were significantly different in their distribution of density classes. CONCLUSION--HRCT is more reproducible and accurate than CR, as suggested by the higher agreement between readers and the better correlation with pulmonary function tests, irrespective of smoking and chronic bronchitis; however, these data do not support the hypothesis that HRCT is more sensitive than CR in the early detection of silicosis.
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