Medical Moment: Using artificial intelligence to help detect breast cancer

Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 5:34 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Mammography is the best tool doctors have to detect breast cancer.

But the American Cancer Society reports that mammograms miss one in eight breast cancers.

Now, two experts are exploring the benefits of adding AI to this screening.

For women over 40, many doctors recommend an annual mammogram; the earlier radiologists can catch breast cancer, the better a woman’s chances are of surviving. And technology has drastically improved over the years.

“We went from old analog films of the breast tissue to fulfilled digital mammography, to now 3D mammography and even contrast-enhanced mammography,” explained Connie Lehman, MD, at Mass General Brigham. “The technology boom was amazing, but it was exceeding the human eye and the human brain’s ability to extract information from those beautiful images.”

Enter artificial intelligence, super fast computers that analyze those images and search for masses that the human eye might miss. AI could also help assess future cancer risk.

“We can also guide women in understanding, ‘You may not have a cancer evident on your mammogram now, but you are at risk in the next five to 10 years. And so, we want to talk to you about a more effective screening for you,” Dr. Lehman continued.

In women who are high-risk, technology that may someday be lifesaving.

Dr. Lehman and a team of researchers are currently studying the accuracy of AI in previously-stored mammograms. They want to assess how accurate AI is in a population of minority women. Dr. Lehman said the technology has not yet been studied in a clinical trial, an important step to confirm that AI is an effective screening tool.