Effect of Dose Level on Radiologists’ Detection of Microcalcifications in Digital Breast Tomosynthesis: An Observer Study with Breast Phantoms

Published:September 16, 2020DOI:


      To compare radiologists’ sensitivity, confidence level, and reading efficiency of detecting microcalcifications in digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) at two clinically relevant dose levels.

      Materials and Methods

      Six 5-cm-thick heterogeneous breast phantoms embedded with a total of 144 simulated microcalcification clusters of four speck sizes were imaged at two dose modes by a clinical DBT system. The DBT volumes at the two dose levels were read independently by six MQSA radiologists and one fellow with 1–33 years (median 12 years) of experience in a fully-crossed counter-balanced manner. The radiologist located each potential cluster and rated its conspicuity and his/her confidence that the marked location contained a cluster. The differences in the results between the two dose modes were analyzed by two-tailed paired t-test.


      Compared to the lower-dose mode, the average glandular dose in the higher-dose mode for the 5-cm phantoms increased from 1.34 to 2.07 mGy. The detection sensitivity increased for all speck sizes and significantly for the two smaller sizes (p <0.05). An average of 13.8% fewer false positive clusters was marked. The average conspicuity rating and the radiologists’ confidence level were higher for all speck sizes and reached significance (p <0.05) for the three larger sizes. The average reading time per detected cluster reduced significantly (p <0.05) by an average of 13.2%.


      For a 5-cm-thick breast, an increase in average glandular dose from 1.34 to 2.07 mGy for DBT imaging increased the conspicuity of microcalcifications, improved the detection sensitivity by radiologists, increased their confidence levels, reduced false positive detections, and increased the reading efficiency.

      Key Words

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