Effect of variations in operational definitions on performance estimates for screening mammography

Robert D. Rosenberg, Bonnie C. Yankaskas, William C. Hunt, Rachel Ballard-Barbash, Nicole Urban, Virginia L. Ernster, Karla Kerlikowske, Berta Geller, Patricia A. Carney, Stephen Taplin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Rationale and Objectives. The Mammography Quality Standards Act requires practices to measure limited aspects of their performance. The authors conducted this study to calculate the differences in measurements of sensitivity and specificity due only to differences in the definitions used in the analysis. This included definitions for case inclusion. Materials and Methods. Data from the New Mexico Mammography Project for January 1991 to December 1995 on 136,540 women who underwent screening mammography were analyzed. A starting definition was created for each performance measure. The components of the definition were varied, and estimates of sensitivity and specificity for the different definitions were calculated. Results. Sensitivity was lower and specificity was higher when assessed on the basis of the results of all imaging performed in the screening work-up rather than on the initial screening examination alone. Sensitivity was higher and specificity was lower in women who did not undergo rather than in women who did recently undergo a previous examination. When the definition of a positive examination included cases that were recommended for short-term follow-up, the work-up sensitivity was slightly higher and the work-up specificity was considerably lower. Longer follow-up times for determining the diagnosis of cancer were associated with decreasing sensitivity, particularly when the follow-up period extended beyond 12 months. Conclusion. Variations in the operational definitions for measures of mammographic performance affect these estimates. To facilitate valid comparisons, reports need to be explicit regarding the definitions and methods used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1058-1068
Number of pages11
JournalAcademic radiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Definitions
  • Mass screening
  • Methods
  • Sensitivity
  • Specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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