Comparing two visualization protocols for tomosynthesis in screening: specificity and sensitivity of slabs versus planes plus slabs

Eur Radiol. 2019 Jul;29(7):3802-3811. doi: 10.1007/s00330-018-5978-x. Epub 2019 Feb 8.


Objectives: Tomosynthesis (DBT) has proven to be more sensitive than digital mammography, but it requires longer reading time. We retrospectively compared accuracy and reading times of a simplified protocol with 1-cm-thick slabs versus a standard protocol of slabs + 1-mm-spaced planes, both integrated with synthetic 2D.

Methods: We randomly selected 894 DBTs (including 12 cancers) from the experimental arm of the RETomo trial. DBTs were read by two radiologists to estimate specificity. A second set of 24 cancers (8 also present in the first set) mixed within 276 negative DBTs was read by two radiologists. In total, 28 cancers with 64 readings were used to estimate sensitivity. Radiologists read with both protocols separated by a 3-month washout. Only women that were positive at the screening reading were assessed. Variance was estimated taking into account repeated measures.

Results: Sensitivity was 82.8% (53/64, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 67.2-92.2) and 90.6% (95% CI 80.2-95.8) with simplified and standard protocols, respectively. In the random screening setting, specificity was 97.9% (1727/1764, 95% CI 97.1-98.5) and 96.3% (95% CI 95.3-97.1), respectively. Inter-reader agreement was 0.68 and 0.54 with simplified and standard protocols, respectively. Median reading times with simplified protocol were 20% to 30% shorter than with standard protocol.

Conclusions: A simplified protocol reduced reading time and false positives but may have a negative impact on sensitivity.

Key points: • The adoption of digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) in screening, more sensitive than mammography, could be limited by its potential effect on the radiologists' workload, i.e., increased reading time and fatigue. • A DBT simplified protocol with slab only, compared to a standard protocol (slab plus planes) both integrated with synthetic 2D, reduced time and false positives but had a negative impact on sensitivity.

Keywords: Breast neoplasms; Mammography; Mass screening; Sensitivity and specificity; Workflow.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / diagnosis*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / methods*
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies