The study saw a computer created by Google’s AI experts compete with medical experts as they screened mammograms. The research discovered AI was usually as good as professionals at spotting breast cancer – and was far better at avoiding false positives.
Medical experts now hope similar technology can improve the detection of breast cancer rate, a condition affecting one in eight women.
The comparison was undertaken by researchers from the US and UK and was published in the journal Nature.
The study is only the latest to suggest that Artificial Intelligence could revolutionise healthcare.
Radiologists miss approximately 20 percent of breast cancers in mammograms, the American Cancer Society says.
And half of all women who are screened over a decade received a false positive result.
The study’s findings, developed with Google’s DeepMind AI unit, are a major advance in the potential for the early detection of breast cancer, Mozziyar Etemadi, one of its co-authors from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said.
The team, including researchers at Imperial College London and the NHS, trained the system to identify breast cancers on tens of thousands of mammograms.
The researchers then compared the system’s performance with the actual results from a set of 25,856 mammograms in the UK and 3,097 from the US.
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The study saw the AI system identify cancers with a similar degree of accuracy to expert radiologists, while reducing the number of false positive results by 5.7 percent in the US-based group and by 1.2 percent in the British-based group.
The AI also slashed the number of false negatives, where tests are wrongly classified as normal, by 9.4 percent in the US group, and by 2.7 percent in the UK group.
These differences reflect the ways in which mammograms are read.
In the US, only one radiologist reads the results and the tests are done every one to two years.
The tests are done every three years in Britain, and each is read by two radiologists.
If the two radiologists disagree, a third is consulted.
In a separate test, the group pitted the Artificial Intelligence system against six radiologists and found it outperformed them at accurately detecting breast cancers.
Dr Connie Lehman, chief of the breast imaging department at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, said the results are in line with findings from several groups using Artificial Intelligence to improve cancer detection in mammograms, including her own work.
The notion of using computers to improve cancer diagnostics is decades old, and computer-aided detection (CAD) systems are commonplace in mammography clinics, yet CAD programs have not improved performance in clinical practice.
The issue, Dr Lehman believes, is current CAD programs were trained to identify things human radiologists can see, whereas AI learns to spot cancers based on the actual results of thousands of mammograms.
This has the potential to “exceed human capacity to identify subtle cues that the human eye and brain aren’t able to perceive,” she added.