Breast dose in mammography is about 30% lower when realistic heterogeneous glandular distributions are considered

Andrew M. Hernandez, J Anthony Seibert, John M Boone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Purpose: Current dosimetry methods in mammography assume that the breast is comprised of a homogeneous mixture of glandular and adipose tissues. Three-dimensional (3D) dedicated breast CT (bCT) data sets were used previously to assess the complex anatomical structure within the breast, characterizing the statistical distribution of glandular tissue in the breast. The purpose of this work was to investigate the effect of bCT-derived heterogeneous glandular distributions on dosimetry in mammography. Methods: bCT-derived breast diameters, volumes, and 3D fibroglandular distributions were used to design realistic compressed breast models comprised of heterogeneous distributions of glandular tissue. The bCT-derived glandular distributions were fit to biGaussian functions and used as probability density maps to assign the density distributions within compressed breast models. The MCNPX 2.6.0 Monte Carlo code was used to estimate monoenergetic normalized mean glandular dose DgN(E) values in mammography geometry. The DgN(E) values were then weighted by typical mammography x-ray spectra to determine polyenergetic DgN (pDgN) coefficients for heterogeneous (pDgNhetero) and homogeneous (pDgNhomo) cases. The dependence of estimated pDgN values on phantom size, volumetric glandular fraction (VGF), x-ray technique factors, and location of the heterogeneous glandular distributions was investigated. Results: The pDgNhetero coefficients were on average 35.3% (SD, 4.1) and 24.2% (SD, 3.0) lower than the pDgNhomo coefficients for the MoMo and WRh x-ray spectra, respectively, across all phantom sizes and VGFs when the glandular distributions were centered within the breast phantom in the coronal plane. At constant breast size, increasing VGF from 7.3% to 19.1% lead to a reduction in pDgNhetero relative to pDgNhomo of 23.6%27.4% for a WRh spectrum. Displacement of the glandular distribution, at a distance equal to 10% of the compressed breast width in the superior and inferior directions, resulted in a 37.3% and a -26.6% change in the pDgNhetero coefficient, respectively, relative to the centered distribution for the MoMo spectrum. Lateral displacement of the glandular distribution, at a distance equal to 10% of the compressed breast width, resulted in a 1.5% change in the pDgNhetero coefficient relative to the centered distribution for the WRh spectrum. Conclusions: Introducing bCT-derived heterogeneous glandular distributions into mammography phantom design resulted in decreased glandular dose relative to the widely used homogeneous assumption. A homogeneous distribution overestimates the amount of glandular tissue near the entrant surface of the breast, where dose deposition is exponentially higher. While these findings are based on clinically measured distributions of glandular tissue using a large cohort of women, future work is required to improve the classification of glandular distributions based on breast size and overall glandular fraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6337-6348
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • breast CT
  • dosimetry
  • glandular dose
  • mammography
  • Monte Carlo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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