A team of researchers from Google Health, universities, and medical centers in the US and the UK designed the computer model to read breast X-ray images. The team designed an algorithm and taught the model using X-ray images from almost 29,000 women who had known diagnoses.
The results: The AI system read images better than radiologists and reduced the number of false negatives and false positives. A false negative is when cancer is present, but a mammogram is misread as normal. A false positive is when no cancer is present, but a mammogram is misread as abnormal.
The research team published their results in the journal Nature. The AI system reduced false negatives by 9.4% and lowered false positives by 5.7% on scans from the US. The AI system also outperformed radiologists in the UK, reducing false negatives by 2.7% and false positives by 1.2%.
The American Cancer Society recognizes the limitations of screening mammography for the detection of breast cancer. The ACS states that approximately 20% of breast cancers are missed by mammography. That is, 1 in 5 breast cancers are missed due to false negatives. False-negative results are more common in women who have dense breast tissue.
AI systems that read mammograms may one day lead to more accurate detection of breast cancer, but further studies are needed. And unlike their human counterparts, an AI system can work around the clock.
“In most cases, there are no early warning signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer may not produce any early symptoms, and in many cases, it is first discovered on screening mammography,” according to MedicineNet author, Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD.
Mammography makes it possible to detect many cancers early before they cause symptoms. “As with any test, mammograms have limitations and will miss some cancers,” Dr. Stöppler said.
Dr. Stöppler states that the ACS has different mammography screening recommendations based on a woman’s age, health status, family history, and other factors. Women at high risk of breast cancer, defined as greater than 20% lifetime risk, are advised to get an MRI and a mammogram annually, Dr. Stöppler said. Women should talk to their doctors regarding the tests and screening schedules that make sense for them.