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Med Phys. 2012 Jun;39(6):3202-13. doi: 10.1118/1.4718571.

Effect of image quality on calcification detection in digital mammography.

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National Co-ordinating Centre for the Physics of Mammography, Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Guildford GU2 7XX, United Kingdom.



This study aims to investigate if microcalcification detection varies significantly when mammographic images are acquired using different image qualities, including: different detectors, dose levels, and different image processing algorithms. An additional aim was to determine how the standard European method of measuring image quality using threshold gold thickness measured with a CDMAM phantom and the associated limits in current EU guidelines relate to calcification detection.


One hundred and sixty two normal breast images were acquired on an amorphous selenium direct digital (DR) system. Microcalcification clusters extracted from magnified images of slices of mastectomies were electronically inserted into half of the images. The calcification clusters had a subtle appearance. All images were adjusted using a validated mathematical method to simulate the appearance of images from a computed radiography (CR) imaging system at the same dose, from both systems at half this dose, and from the DR system at quarter this dose. The original 162 images were processed with both Hologic and Agfa (Musica-2) image processing. All other image qualities were processed with Agfa (Musica-2) image processing only. Seven experienced observers marked and rated any identified suspicious regions. Free response operating characteristic (FROC) and ROC analyses were performed on the data. The lesion sensitivity at a nonlesion localization fraction (NLF) of 0.1 was also calculated. Images of the CDMAM mammographic test phantom were acquired using the automatic setting on the DR system. These images were modified to the additional image qualities used in the observer study. The images were analyzed using automated software. In order to assess the relationship between threshold gold thickness and calcification detection a power law was fitted to the data.


There was a significant reduction in calcification detection using CR compared with DR: the alternative FROC (AFROC) area decreased from 0.84 to 0.63 and the ROC area decreased from 0.91 to 0.79 (p < 0.0001). This corresponded to a 30% drop in lesion sensitivity at a NLF equal to 0.1. Detection was also sensitive to the dose used. There was no significant difference in detection between the two image processing algorithms used (p > 0.05). It was additionally found that lower threshold gold thickness from CDMAM analysis implied better cluster detection. The measured threshold gold thickness passed the acceptable limit set in the EU standards for all image qualities except half dose CR. However, calcification detection varied significantly between image qualities. This suggests that the current EU guidelines may need revising.


Microcalcification detection was found to be sensitive to detector and dose used. Standard measurements of image quality were a good predictor of microcalcification cluster detection.

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