Fiber-like features are an important aspect of breast imaging. Vessels and ducts are present in all breast images, and spiculations radiating from a mass can indicate malignancy. Accordingly, fiber objects are one of the three types of signals used in the American College of Radiology digital mammography (ACR-DM) accreditation phantom. Our work focuses on the image properties of fiber-like structures in digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) and how image reconstruction can affect their appearance. The impact of DBT image reconstruction algorithm and regularization strength on the conspicuity of fiber-like signals of various orientations is investigated in simulation. A metric is developed to characterize this orientation dependence and allow for quantitative comparison of algorithms and associated parameters in the context of imaging fiber signals. The imaging properties of fibers, characterized in simulation, are then demonstrated in detail with physical DBT data of the ACR-DM phantom. The characterization of imaging of fiber signals is used to explain features of an actual clinical DBT case. For the algorithms investigated, at low regularization setting, the results show a striking variation in conspicuity as a function of orientation in the viewing plane. In particular, the conspicuity of fibers nearly aligned with the plane of the x-ray source trajectory is decreased relative to more obliquely oriented fibers. Increasing regularization strength mitigates this orientation dependence at the cost of increasing depth blur of these structures.
Keywords: breast imaging; digital breast tomosynthesis; fiber signals; image reconstruction.