Published for the American Association of Physicists in Medicine by the American Institute of Physics
Medical Physics vol:35 issue:9 pages:4012-4018
The assessment of the performance of a digital mammography system requires an observer study with a relatively large number of cases with known truth which is often difficult to assemble. Several investigators have developed methods for generating hybrid abnormal images containing simulated microcalcifications. This article addresses some of the limitations of earlier methods. The new method is based on digital images of needle biopsy specimens. Since the specimens are imaged separately from the breast, the microcalcification attenuation profile scan is deduced without the effects of over and underlying tissues. The resulting templates are normalized for image acquisition specific parameters and reprocessed to simulate microcalcifications appropriate to other imaging systems, with different x-ray, detector and image processing parameters than the original acquisition system. This capability is not shared by previous simulation methods that have relied on extracting microcalcifications from breast images. The method was validated by five experienced mammographers who compared 59 pairs of simulated and real microcalcifications in a two-alternative forced choice task designed to test if they could distinguish the real from the simulated lesions. They also classified the shapes of the microcalcifications according to a standardized clinical lexicon. The observed probability of correct choice was 0.415, 95% confidence interval (0.284, 0.546), showing that the radiologists were unable to distinguish the lesions. The shape classification revealed substantial agreement with the truth (mean kappa = 0.70), showing that we were able to accurately simulate the lesion morphology. While currently limited to single microcalcifications, the method is extensible to more complex clusters of microcalcifications and to three-dimensional images. It can be used to objectively assess an imaging technology, especially with respect to its ability to adequately visualize the morphology of the lesions, which is a critical factor in the benign versus malignant classification of a lesion detected in screening mammography.