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AI ‘better than doctors’ at detecting breast cancer

Algorithm outperformed six radiologists in reading mammograms

Artificial intelligence (AI) is more accurate than doctors in diagnosing breast cancer from mammograms, a study suggests.

An international team, including researchers from Google Health and Imperial College London, designed and trained a computer model on X-ray images from nearly 29,000 women.

The algorithm outperformed six radiologists in reading mammograms and was still as good as two doctors working together.

Currently, the NHS uses two radiologists to analyse each woman’s X-rays. In rare cases where they disagree, a third doctor assesses the images.

In the research study, an AI model was given anonymised images and, unlike the human experts, had no access to the patient’s history.

The results showed that the AI model was as good as the current double-reading system of two doctors and was superior at spotting cancer than a single doctor.

Compared to one radiologist, there was a reduction of 1.2% in false positives, when a mammogram is incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal.

There was also a reduction of 2.7% in false negatives, where a cancer is missed.

Dominic King from Google Health said: “Our team is really proud of these research findings, which suggest that we are on our way to developing a tool that can help clinicians spot breast cancer with greater accuracy.”

Sara Hiom, director of cancer intelligence and early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC: “This is promising early research which suggests that in future it may be possible to make screening more accurate and efficient, which means less waiting and worrying for patients, and better outcomes.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.