Automatic evaluation of breast density in mammographic images

University essay from KTH/Skolan för teknik och hälsa (STH)

Author: Tomas Björklund; [2012]

Keywords: ;


The goal of this master thesis is to develop a computerized method for automatic estimation of the mammographic density of mammographic images from 5 different types of mammography units.


Mammographic density is a measurement of the amount of fibroglandular tissue in a breast. This is the single most attributable risk factor for breast cancer; an accurate measurement of the mammographic density can increase the accuracy of cancer prediction in mammography. Today it is commonly estimated through visual inspection by a radiologist, which is subjective and results in inter-reader variation.


The developed method estimates the density as a ratio of #pixels-containing-dense-tissue over #pixels-containing-any-breast-tissue and also according to the BI-RADS density categories. To achieve this, each mammographic image is:

  • corrected for breast thickness and normalized such that some global threshold can separate dense and non-dense tissue.
  • iteratively thresholded until a good threshold is found.  This process is monitored and automatically stopped by a classifier which is trained on sample segmentations using features based on different image intensity characteristics in specified image regions.
  • filtered to remove noise such as blood vessels from the segmentation.
  • Finally, the ratio of dense tissue is calculated and a BI-RADS density class is assigned based on a calibrated scale (after averaging the ratings of both craniocaudal images for each patient). The calibration is based on resulting density ratio estimations of over 1300 training samples against ratings by radiologists of the same images.


The method was tested on craniocaudal images (not included in the training process) acquired with different mammography units of 703 patients which had also been rated by radiologists according to the BI-RADS density classes. The agreement with the radiologist rating in terms of Cohen’s weighted kappa is substantial (0.73). In 68% of the cases the agreement is exact, only in 1.2% of the cases the disagreement is more than 1 class.

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