Visual assessment of breast density using visual analogue scales: observer variability, reader attributes and reading time

Teri Ang, Elaine Harkness, Anthony Maxwell, Yit Lim, Richard Elmsley, Anthony Howell, Dafydd Evans, Susan Astley, Soujanya Gadde

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Breast density is a strong risk factor for breast cancer and has potential use in breast cancer risk prediction, with subjective methods of density assessment providing a strong relationship with the development of breast cancer. This study aims to assess intra- and inter-observer variability in visual density assessment recorded on Visual Analogue Scales (VAS) among trained readers, and examine whether reader age, gender and experience are associated with assessed density. Eleven readers estimated the breast density of 120 mammograms on two occasions 3 years apart using VAS. Intra- and inter-observer agreement was assessed with Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (ICC) and variation between readers visualised on Bland-Altman plots. The mean scores of all mammograms per reader were used to analyse the effect of reader attributes on assessed density. Excellent intra-observer agreement (ICC>0.80) was found in the majority of the readers. All but one reader had a mean difference of <10 percentage points from the first to the second reading. Inter-observer agreement was excellent for consistency (ICC 0.82) and substantial for absolute agreement (ICC 0.69). However, the 95% limits of agreement for pairwise differences were -6.8 to 15.7 at the narrowest and 0.8 to 62.3 at the widest. No significant association was found between assessed density and reader age, experience or gender, or with reading time. Overall, the readers were consistent in their scores, although some large variations were observed. Reader evaluation and targeted training may alleviate this problem. © (2017) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProc. SPIE 10136, Medical Imaging 2017: Image Perception, Observer Performance, and Technology Assessment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2017


  • Observer
  • Mammographic density
  • Repeatability
  • Reader
  • Variability


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