Virchows Archiv

, Volume 461, Issue 2, pp 211–219 | Cite as

Virtual CT autopsy in clinical pathology: feasibility in clinical autopsies

  • Saskia E. Westphal
  • Jonas Apitzsch
  • Tobias Penzkofer
  • Andreas H. Mahnken
  • Ruth KnüchelEmail author
Original Article


For the past century, autopsy techniques in clinical pathology have not changed significantly, while autopsy rates are declining. Modern imaging techniques offer interesting prospects of supportive post-mortem diagnostic investigation. In a prospective study of 29 autopsy cases, complimentary virtual autopsy using unenhanced post-mortem computed tomography (pmCT) was performed. We analysed in a prospective cohort study 29 unenhanced pmCT scans, generated prior to autopsy. Clinical information regarding clinical history and circumstances of death were provided. The objective of the study was to find consistency and/or discrepancy between virtual autopsy and conventional autopsy findings regarding cause of death and death-related diagnoses, reconstruction of the pathogenetic mechanisms involved, side diagnoses and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)- or death-related post-mortem changes. Accuracy of pmCT for cause of death was 68 % and the positive predictive value (PPV) was 75 %. Regarding the pathogenetic mechanisms, accuracy of pmCT was 21 % and PPV was 29 %. The combined diagnostic yield of autopsy and pmCT was 133 % compared to autopsy only. Modern imaging techniques give an opportunity for post-mortem diagnostics to complete but not yet replace traditional autopsy. We could show that in two out of three cases, the cause of death found by pmCT matched the diagnosis from classical autopsy. While both disciplines, pathology and radiology, will profit from the mutual exchange of data, it seems a realistic aim to strive for virtual autopsy possibly further supported by biopsies and contrast-enhanced pmCT as an alternative to the classical clinical autopsy. A combination of both methods enhances diagnostic quality and completeness of the autopsy report.


Autopsy study Autopsy rate Germany Europe Virtual autopsy CT pmCT 



The authors would like to thank Bernd Sellhaus, Marc Britz and Wim Haas.



Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

428_2012_1257_MOESM1_ESM.doc (120 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 Results of pmCT vs. classical autopsy (items 1–4) per case (DOC 169 kb)
428_2012_1257_MOESM2_ESM.doc (78 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 Side diagnoses of classical autopsy vs. pmCT (item 5) (DOC 78 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saskia E. Westphal
    • 1
  • Jonas Apitzsch
    • 2
  • Tobias Penzkofer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Andreas H. Mahnken
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ruth Knüchel
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PathologyRWTH Aachen University HospitalAachenGermany
  2. 2.Clinic for Diagnostic and Interventional RadiologyRWTH Aachen University HospitalAachenGermany
  3. 3.Applied Medical EngineeringHelmholtz Institute of Biomedical Engineering, RWTH AachenAachenGermany
  4. 4.Department of PathologyRWTH Aachen University HospitalAachenGermany

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