Automatic assessment of mammographic density using a deep transfer learning method

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Mammographic breast density is one of the strongest risk factors for cancer. Density assessed by radiologists using visual analogue scales has been shown to provide better risk predictions than other methods. Our purpose is to build automated models using deep learning and train on radiologist scores to make accurate and consistent predictions.
Approach: We used a data-set of almost 160,000 mammograms each with two independent density scores made by expert medical practitioners. We used two pre-trained deep networks and adapted them to produce feature vectors which were then used for both linear and non-linear regression to make density predictions. We also simulated an “optimal method” which allowed us to compare the quality of our results with a simulated upper bound on performance.
Results: Our deep learning method produced estimates with a Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE) of 8:79 ± 0:21. The model estimates of cancer risk perform at a similar level to human experts, within uncertainty bounds. We made comparisons between different model variants and demonstrated the high level of consistency of the model predictions. Our modelled “optimal method” produced image predictions with a RMSE of between 7:98 and 8:90 for cranial caudal images.
Conclusion: We demonstrated a new deep learning framework based upon a transfer learning approach to make density estimates based on radiologists’ visual scores. Our approach requires modest computational resources and has the potential to be trained with limited quantities of data.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Imaging
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • deep learning
  • mammography
  • breast density
  • transfer learning
  • cancer risk


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