The estimation of the mean glandular dose to the breast (MGD) for x-ray based imaging modalities forms an essential part of quality control and is needed for risk estimation and for system design and optimisation. This review considers the development of methods for estimating the MGD for mammography, digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) and dedicated breast CT (DBCT). Almost all of the methodology used employs Monte Carlo calculated conversion factors to relate the measurable quantity, generally the incident air kerma, to the MGD. After a review of the size and composition of the female breast, the various mathematical models used are discussed, with particular emphasis on models for mammography. These range from simple geometrical shapes, to the more recent complex models based on patient DBCT examinations. The possibility of patient-specific dose estimates is considered as well as special diagnostic views and the effect of breast implants. Calculations using the complex models show that the MGD for mammography is overestimated by about 30% when the simple models are used. The design and uses of breast-simulating test phantoms for measuring incident air kerma are outlined and comparisons made between patient and phantom-based dose estimates. The most widely used national and international dosimetry protocols for mammography are based on different simple geometrical models of the breast, and harmonisation of these protocols using more complex breast models is desirable.
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