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Open Access Research article

How does age affect baseline screening mammography performance measures? A decision model

John D Keen1* and James E Keen2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiology, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, 1901 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL. 60612-9985, USA

2 Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, University of Nebraska, P.O. Box 148, Clay Center NE 68933, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2008, 8:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-8-40

Published: 21 September 2008



In order to promote consumer-oriented informed medical decision-making regarding screening mammography, we created a decision model to predict the age dependence of the cancer detection rate, the recall rate and the secondary performance measures (positive predictive values, total intervention rate, and positive biopsy fraction) for a baseline mammogram.


We constructed a decision tree to model the possible outcomes of a baseline screening mammogram in women ages 35 to 65. We compared the single baseline screening mammogram decision with the no screening alternative. We used the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results national cancer database as the primary input to estimate cancer prevalence. For other probabilities, the model used population-based estimates for screening mammography accuracy and diagnostic mammography outcomes specific to baseline exams. We varied radiologist performance for screening accuracy.


The cancer detection rate increases from 1.9/1000 at age 40 to 7.2/1000 at age 50 to 15.1/1000 at age 60. The recall rate remains relatively stable at 142–157/1000, which varies from 73–236/1000 at age 50 depending on radiologist performance. The positive predictive value of a screening mammogram increases from 1.3% at age 40 to 9.8% at age 60, while the positive predictive value of a diagnostic mammogram varies from 2.9% at age 40 to 19.2% at age 60. The model predicts the total intervention rate = 0.013*AGE2 - 0.67*AGE + 40, or 34/1000 at age 40 to 47/1000 at age 60. Therefore, the positive biopsy (intervention) fraction varies from 6% at age 40 to 32% at age 60.


Breast cancer prevalence, the cancer detection rate, and all secondary screening mammography performance measures increase substantially with age.