Volumetric breast density measurement: sensitivity analysis of a relative physics approach

Br J Radiol. 2016 Oct;89(1066):20160258. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20160258. Epub 2016 Jul 25.


Objective: To investigate the sensitivity and robustness of a volumetric breast density (VBD) measurement system to errors in the imaging physics parameters including compressed breast thickness (CBT), tube voltage (kVp), filter thickness, tube current-exposure time product (mAs), detector gain, detector offset and image noise.

Methods: 3317 raw digital mammograms were processed with Volpara(®) (Matakina Technology Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand) to obtain fibroglandular tissue volume (FGV), breast volume (BV) and VBD. Errors in parameters including CBT, kVp, filter thickness and mAs were simulated by varying them in the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) tags of the images up to ±10% of the original values. Errors in detector gain and offset were simulated by varying them in the Volpara configuration file up to ±10% from their default values. For image noise, Gaussian noise was generated and introduced into the original images.

Results: Errors in filter thickness, mAs, detector gain and offset had limited effects on FGV, BV and VBD. Significant effects in VBD were observed when CBT, kVp, detector offset and image noise were varied (p < 0.0001). Maximum shifts in the mean (1.2%) and median (1.1%) VBD of the study population occurred when CBT was varied.

Conclusion: Volpara was robust to expected clinical variations, with errors in most investigated parameters giving limited changes in results, although extreme variations in CBT and kVp could lead to greater errors.

Advances in knowledge: Despite Volpara's robustness, rigorous quality control is essential to keep the parameter errors within reasonable bounds. Volpara appears robust within those bounds, albeit for more advanced applications such as tracking density change over time, it remains to be seen how accurate the measures need to be.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Density*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / methods*
  • Physics
  • Quality Control
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity