How Artificial Intelligence is Making Breast Cancer Detection Easier

Young girl standing in front of "For Women" sign

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. The following post is helpful information on mammograms and tips for breast cancer awareness from ConsumerSafety.org to help our readers understand the critical role mammograms play in early detection and how advances in artificial intelligence are helping to improve screening.

What are Mammograms & Why do Women Need Them?

Most women know that a mammogram is a type of x-ray used to analyze breast tissue and is utilized to detect breast cancer in its early onset stages. This screening will reveal lumps in a woman’s breast before they can be felt and illuminates tiny calcium clusters that may be indicators of cancer or other conditions. Women who are age 40 and older should schedule a mammogram every 1-2 years, as recommended by their physician.

What Happens if my Mammogram is Abnormal?

If a radiologist performing a mammogram finds calcification or a mass in the breast, this does not always mean a sure sign of cancer. There are several additional tests including an ultrasound or MRI that will likely need to be performed before a doctor can confirm that the mass isn’t benign. A biopsy may also be recommended to analyze tissue from a concerning area under a microscope.

Why are Mammograms Flawed?

Despite a physician’s motives to detect breast cancer as early as possible, many mammograms and the interpretation of x-ray results are flawed. Reasons for flawed testing include false-negative results, in which doctors cannot detect a tumor from an MRI or ultrasound despite one being present. Additionally, false-positive results may spur from a screening revealing cancerous material but then is later proven wrong with additional testing. The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 50% of mammography test results are false-positive, often requiring women to go through extensive testing for no reason. $4 billion each year in healthcare spending is due to false-positive mammograms and overdiagnosis of breast cancer.

How will A.I. Improve Mammograms?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a complex programming matrix defined by computer systems being able to perform tasks that once required human intelligence. Today, A.I. is used in voice recognition software, to perform complicated surgeries, and in transport situations with driverless cars. Most recently, artificial intelligence is being used to improve the accuracy of mammogram readings. As machine learning continues to make waves in the technological field, companies have honed their efforts in the healthcare space to enhance these screenings. Texas’ Houston Methodist Research Institute has developed an A.I. program that is capable of interpreting mammograms with 99% accuracy and 30x faster than a human doctor. Conversely, Therapixel, a French startup which specializes in medical imaging software, has said its A.I. technology can reduce the rate of false-positive mammogram results by 5%.

Additional Uses for A.I. in Radiology

It is now common practice for A.I. software to facilitate the proper training of medical professionals, which will dramatically reduce errors in mammogram interpretation. Additionally, a study published by the Journal of Medical Imaging found that artificial intelligence can be utilized in analyzing eye movements of radiologists to understand the cognitive processes involved in image interpretation. Certain A.I. capabilities also help radiologists to compare mammogram images from year to year, picking up on subtle differences that may be more difficult for the human eye to detect.

Roughly 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer. And 1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Make it a priority during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October to visit your physician for a breast cancer screening and find out your risk level of developing this traumatic condition. The earlier cancerous cells are found, the more easily they can be targeted and eradicated. For more health and safety information regarding breast cancer and other serious ailments, visit the ConsumerSafety.org website here.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Tim Bain

Tim is a licensed life insurance agent with 22 years of experience helping people protect their families and businesses with term life insurance. He writes and creates stuff for QuickQuote and other insurance and financial websites. You can find him on Twitter.

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