Artificial Intelligence & Mammograms: Improving Women’s Lives One Scan at a Time

What is the Purpose of Mammograms?

Mammograms are a form of x-ray that is used by physicians and conducted by radiologists in order to analyze breast tissue and detect breast cancer, even at its earliest stages. This screening is effective in finding breast lumps before they can be felt. It also has the capability to illuminate tiny calcium clusters within the breast, which is one of the leading indicators of breast cancer or other conditions. It is recommended that every woman over the age of 40 should get a mammogram every 1-2 years. If you are younger than 40 but know that you are at an increased risk for breast cancer, it is advised that you consult with your doctor about a scheduling a screening and the preventative measures you can take to lower the possibility of being diagnosed.  

How Are Mammograms Performed?

In order to perform a mammogram, each breast is flattened between two plastic plates and an x-ray is taken of the breast tissue. In total, four x-ray images are captured to allow for different views of the tissue. A radiologist will then review the images, looking for any abnormalities such as calcium deposits or masses that may indicate breast cancer. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime, and roughly 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer. With this many cancer-related deaths, the importance of mammograms is becoming more and more evident.

Why Are Mammograms Flawed?   

Despite the true intention of mammograms and their utilization in order to detect breast cancer as early as possible, their results can be flawed. There are several reasons why testing can be flawed, including false-negative results, where a doctor cannot detect a tumor from the image. Similarly, false-positive results occur when doctors read the screening as cancer and are then proven wrong with additional testing. In the U.S. alone, over 30 million mammograms are performed each year, and according to The American Cancer Society, roughly 50% of mammography test results are false-positive.  

What is AI and How Will it Improve Mammograms?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a machine learning apparatus that has been created by humans in order to perform tasks more effectively and precisely than any human being. Today, AI is being used in a number of ways, including voice recognition software and in transport situations with driverless cars. Artificial Intelligence is now being utilized to improve the accuracy of mammogram readings. As advanced computerized systems continue to make waves in the technological field, companies have focused their efforts in the healthcare space to improve these screenings. Texas’ Houston Methodist Research Institute has developed an AI program that can interpret mammograms with 99% accuracy and 30x faster than a human doctor. While Therapixel, a French startup specializing in medical imaging software, has said its AI technology can reduce the rate of false-positive mammogram results by 5%.  

Additional Uses of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

AI will soon facilitate the proper training of medical professionals to reduce errors in mammogram interpretation. In a study published by the Journal of Medical Imaging, Artificial Intelligence was used to analyze eye movements of radiologists to understand the cognitive processes involved in image interpretation. In addition, the use of ‘deep learning technology’, a subset of Artificial Intelligence, helps radiologists to identify potential mammographic abnormalities at a much quicker pace.

Make the time to visit your physician this October and get screened for breast cancer regularly. Mammograms can be very effective in finding even the earliest stages of the disease thanks to advancing medical technologies. Do not be overly concerned about misdiagnosis either, as there will be follow-up testing. If you do happen to be diagnosed with breast cancer, you should consult with a second physician before actually beginning any treatment. Together, we can put a halt to breast cancer and save thousands of lives with a simple test.