The quantitative analysis of mammographic densities

Phys Med Biol. 1994 Oct;39(10):1629-38. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/39/10/008.


Quantitative classification of mammographic parenchyma based on radiological assessment has been shown to provide one of the strongest estimates of the risk of developing breast cancer. Existing classification schemes, however, are limited by coarse category scales. In addition, subjectivity can lead to sizeable interobserver and intraobserver variations. Here, we propose an interactive thresholding technique applied to digitized film-screen mammograms, which assesses the proportion of the mammographic image representing radiographically dense tissue. Observers viewed images on a CRT display and selected grey-level thresholds from which the breast and regions of dense tissue in the breast were identified. The proportion of radiographic density was then calculated from the image histogram. The technique was evaluated for the mammograms of 30 women and is well correlated (R > 0.91, Spearman coefficient) with a six-category subjective classification of radiographic density by radiologists. The technique was found to be very reliable with an intraclass correlation coefficient between observers typically R > 0.9. This technique may have a role in routine mammographic analysis for the purpose of assessing risk categories and as a tool in studies of the etiology of breast cancer, in particular for monitoring changes in breast parenchyma during potential preventive interventions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods*
  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / classification*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Observer Variation
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods*
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity