A robust method for segmenting pectoral muscle in mediolateral oblique (MLO) mammograms



Accurately detecting and removing pectoral muscle areas depicting on mediolateral oblique (MLO) view mammograms are an important step to develop a computer-aided detection scheme to assess global mammographic density or tissue patterns. This study aims to develop and test a new fully automated, accurate and robust method for segmenting pectoral muscle in MLO mammograms.


The new method includes the following steps. First, a small rectangular region in the top-left corner of the MLO mammogram which may contain pectoral muscle is captured and enhanced by the fractional differential method. Next, an improved iterative threshold method is applied to segment a rough binary boundary of the pectoral muscle in the small region. Then, a rough contour is fitted with the least squares method on the basis of points of the rough boundary. Last, the fitting contour is subjected to local active contour evolution to obtain the final pectoral muscle segmentation line. The method has been tested on 720 MLO mammograms.


The segmentation results generated using the new scheme were evaluated by two expert mammographic radiologists using a 5-scale rating system. More than 65% were rated above scale 3. When assessing the segmentation results generated using Hough transform, morphologic thresholding methods and Unet-based model, less than 20%, 35% and 47% of segmentation results were rated above scale 3 by two radiologists, respectively. Quantitative data analysis results show that the Dice coefficient of 0.986 ± 0.005 is obtained. In addition, the mean rate of errors and Hausdorff distance between the contours detected by automated and manual segmentation are FP = 1.71 ± 3.82%, FN = 5.20 ± 3.94% and 2.75 ± 1.39 mm separately.


The proposed method can be used to segment the pectoral muscle in MLO mammograms with higher accuracy and robustness.

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This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [Grant Numbers R01 CA160205, CA197150].

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Correspondence to Shiju Yan.

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Yin, K., Yan, S., Song, C. et al. A robust method for segmenting pectoral muscle in mediolateral oblique (MLO) mammograms. Int J CARS 14, 237–248 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11548-018-1867-7

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  • Computer-aided diagnosis
  • Pectoral muscle
  • Automated segmentation
  • Mediolateral oblique mammograms