Journal of Digital Imaging

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 387–392 | Cite as

Understanding Clinical Mammographic Breast Density Assessment: a Deep Learning Perspective

  • Aly A. Mohamed
  • Yahong Luo
  • Hong Peng
  • Rachel C. Jankowitz
  • Shandong WuEmail author


Mammographic breast density has been established as an independent risk marker for developing breast cancer. Breast density assessment is a routine clinical need in breast cancer screening and current standard is using the Breast Imaging and Reporting Data System (BI-RADS) criteria including four qualitative categories (i.e., fatty, scattered density, heterogeneously dense, or extremely dense). In each mammogram examination, a breast is typically imaged with two different views, i.e., the mediolateral oblique (MLO) view and cranial caudal (CC) view. The BI-RADS-based breast density assessment is a qualitative process made by visual observation of both the MLO and CC views by radiologists, where there is a notable inter- and intra-reader variability. In order to maintain consistency and accuracy in BI-RADS-based breast density assessment, gaining understanding on radiologists’ reading behaviors will be educational. In this study, we proposed to leverage the newly emerged deep learning approach to investigate how the MLO and CC view images of a mammogram examination may have been clinically used by radiologists in coming up with a BI-RADS density category. We implemented a convolutional neural network (CNN)-based deep learning model, aimed at distinguishing the breast density categories using a large (15,415 images) set of real-world clinical mammogram images. Our results showed that the classification of density categories (in terms of area under the receiver operating characteristic curve) using MLO view images is significantly higher than that using the CC view. This indicates that most likely it is the MLO view that the radiologists have predominately used to determine the breast density BI-RADS categories. Our study holds a potential to further interpret radiologists’ reading characteristics, enhance personalized clinical training to radiologists, and ultimately reduce reader variations in breast density assessment.


Breast density Deep learning Digital mammography Reading behavior Radiology Breast cancer 



This work was supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI) R01 grant (#1R01CA193603), a Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Research Scholar Grant (#RSCH1530), a Precision Medicine Pilot Award (#MR2014-77613) from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute-Institute for Precision Medicine, and a Biomedical Modeling Pilot Award from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of the University of Pittsburgh. We gratefully acknowledge the support of NVIDIA Corporation with the donation of the Titan X Pascal graphics processing unit (GPU) used for this research. We thank Brenda F. Kurland for the helpful discussion related to this work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aly A. Mohamed
    • 1
  • Yahong Luo
    • 2
  • Hong Peng
    • 1
    • 3
  • Rachel C. Jankowitz
    • 4
    • 5
  • Shandong Wu
    • 1
    • 6
    • 7
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of RadiologyLiaoning Cancer Hospital & InstituteShenyang CityChina
  3. 3.Department of RadiologyChinese PLA General HospitalBeijingChina
  4. 4.Magee-Womens Hospital of University of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA
  5. 5.Department of MedicineUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  6. 6.Department of Biomedical InformaticsUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  7. 7.Department of BioengineeringUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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