Background In mammography, breast compression is applied to reduce the thickness of the breast. While it is widely accepted that firm breast compression is needed to ensure acceptable image quality, guidelines remain vague about how much compression should be applied during mammogram acquisition. A quantitative parameter indicating the desirable amount of compression is not available. Consequently, little is known about the relationship between the amount of breast compression and breast cancer detectability. The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of breast compression pressure in mammography on breast cancer screening outcomes.
Methods We used digital image analysis methods to determine breast volume, percent dense volume, and pressure from 132,776 examinations of 57,179 women participating in the Dutch population-based biennial breast cancer screening program. Pressure was estimated by dividing the compression force by the area of the contact surface between breast and compression paddle. The data was subdivided into quintiles of pressure and the number of screen-detected cancers, interval cancers, false positives, and true negatives were determined for each group. Generalized estimating equations were used to account for correlation between examinations of the same woman and for the effect of breast density and volume when estimating sensitivity, specificity, and other performance measures. Sensitivity was computed using interval cancers occurring between two screening rounds and using interval cancers within 12 months after screening. Pair-wise testing for significant differences was performed.
Results Percent dense volume increased with increasing pressure, while breast volume decreased. Sensitivity in quintiles with increasing pressure was 82.0%, 77.1%, 79.8%, 71.1%, and 70.8%. Sensitivity based on interval cancers within 12 months was significantly lower in the highest pressure quintile compared to the third (84.3% vs 93.9%, p=0.034). Specificity was lower in the lowest pressure quintile (98.0%) compared to the second, third, and fourth group (98.5%, p<0.005). Specificity of the fifth quintile was 98.4%.
Conclusion Results suggest that if too much pressure is applied during mammography this may reduce sensitivity. In contrast, if pressure is low this may decrease specificity.