Researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have developed a novel computer algorithm to easily quantify a major risk factor for breast cancer based on analysis of a screening mammogram. Increased levels of mammographic breast density have been shown in multiple studies to be correlated with elevated risk of breast cancer, but the approach to quantifying this parameter has been limited to the laboratory setting where measurement requires highly skilled technicians. This new discovery opens the door for translation to the clinic where the algorithm can be used to identify high-risk women for tailored treatment. “We recently developed an automated method to estimate mammographic breast density that assesses the variation in grayscale values in mammograms,” explained study lead author John J. Heine, Ph.D., associate member of the Cancer Epidemiology Program and Cancer Imaging and Metabolism Department at Moffitt. According to the authors, mammographic breast density, or the proportion of fibroglandular tissue pictured on the mammogram, is an established risk factor for breast cancer. Women with high mammographic breast density have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. However, mammographic breast density has not been used in clinical settings for risk assessments due in large part to the lack of an automated and standardized measurement. Using their new method, the researchers compared the accuracy and reliability of their measurements of variation in breast density with the performance of tests that use the degree of dense breast tissue in a mammogram to assess breast cancer risk. A study describing their novel method and its utility was first published online on July 3, 2012 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
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