Diffusion weighted imaging for the differentiation of breast tumors: From apparent diffusion coefficient to high order diffusion tensor imaging

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To compare “standard” diffusion weighted imaging, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of 2nd and 4th-order for the differentiation of malignant and benign breast lesions.


Seventy-one patients were imaged at 3 Tesla with a 16-channel breast coil. A diffusion weighted MRI sequence including b = 0 and b = 700 in 30 directions was obtained for all patients. The image data were fitted to three different diffusion models: isotropic model – apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC), 2nd-order tensor model (the standard model used for DTI) and a 4th-order tensor model, with increased degrees of freedom to describe anisotropy. The ability of the fitted parameters in the different models to differentiate between malignant and benign tumors was analyzed.


Seventy-two breast lesions were analyzed, out of which 38 corresponded to malignant and 34 to benign tumors. ADC (using any model) presented the highest discriminative ability of malignant from benign tumors with a receiver operating characteristic area under the curve (AUC) of 0.968, and sensitivity and specificity of 94.1% and 94.7% respectively for a 1.33 × 10−3 mm2/s cutoff. Anisotropy measurements presented high statistical significance between malignant and benign tumors (P < 0.001), but with lower discriminative ability of malignant from benign tumors than ADC (AUC of 0.896 and 0.897 for fractional anisotropy and generalized anisotropy respectively). Statistical significant difference was found between generalized anisotropy and fractional anisotropy for cancers (P < 0.001) but not for benign lesions (P = 0.87).


While anisotropy parameters have the potential to provide additional value for breast applications as demonstrated in this study, ADC exhibited the highest differentiation power between malignant and benign breast tumors. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2016;43:1111–1121.

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