Artificial Intelligence Assists in Breast Cancer Detection

By Steve Blanchard - August 07, 2023

A study published in the journal The Lancet Oncology determined that artificial intelligence helps radiologists detect breast cancer.

Researchers looked at images from more than 80,000 women in Sweden who underwent a mammogram between April 2021 and July 2022. Half of the women were assigned to a group in which AI read the mammogram before it was analyzed by a radiologist. The other group’s mammograms were read by two radiologists without the use of AI. All the radiologists in the study were considered highly experienced.

Scans read by a radiologist and AI had 20% more cancers detected than the group who had mammograms read by two radiologists without the additional technology.

Radiologists at Moffitt Cancer Center use technology when screening patients, but that doesn’t mean artificial intelligence is diagnosing you, according to Dr. Bethany Niell, section chief of breast imaging at Moffitt.

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"Mammograms at Moffitt are interpreted by a subspecialized board-certified physician (breast radiologist) who uses computer algorithms as part of the interpretation process."

- Dr. Bethany Niell, Section Chief, Breast Imaging

“Mammograms at Moffitt are interpreted by a subspecialized board-certified physician (breast radiologist) who uses computer algorithms as part of the interpretation process,” she said. “This is the approach used across most of the U.S.”

The group that used AI in the study said the technology didn’t increase the number of false positives and that it had an additional benefit of reducing the reading workload by nearly half.

It’s an evolving field, Niell said, and has enormous potential to help diagnose breast cancers and make treatment plans earlier.

“Many AI algorithms are being developed and researched around the globe,” Niell said. “Within breast imaging, these AI algorithms have the potential to help our patients in different ways. AI may be able to improve breast cancer detection, decrease unnecessary imaging and radiation exposure, more accurately predict the risk of developing breast cancer during a patient’s lifetime, and prioritize care for patients who have suspicious findings identified on their imaging examinations.”

Niell called the study published in Lancet exciting and sees technology and physicians working together to continue improving health care.

Technological advances in breast cancer screening can make a big difference, the study found. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer incidence has been increasing by 0.5% each year, but deaths from breast cancer have decreased, showing that screening mammograms are doing their job.

Breast cancer remains the second leading killer of women who die from cancer, trailing only behind lung cancer. However, more women are surviving breast cancer than ever before because of improved screening technology and guidelines.

“All women, regardless of race, should begin getting annual mammograms no later than age 40,” Niell said. “Women at increased risk may need to begin breast cancer screening exams as early as age 25. Our goal is to decrease deaths from breast cancer.”

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