Artificial Intelligence is better at diagnosing breast cancer than human doctors. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Nature. For the research, an international team, including representatives from Google Health and Imperial College London, used anonymous X-ray images of 29,000 women to train a computer model so that it could spot breast cancer. When put to the test against six radiologists in reading mammograms, the algorithm came out on top. In fact, it was even proven to be as good as two doctors working together – the current system for assessing mammograms. And unlike the human experts who had access to the patients’ medical history, the AI had just the X-rays to go on. Specifically, the AI resulted in a reduction of 1.2% in false positives - when a mammogram is incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal – and a 2.7% reduction in false negatives, where a cancer is missed. While we’re not likely to see AI being used to diagnose or clear breast cancer patients any time soon, the technology could be used to assist radiologists and speed up diagnoses going forward. Speaking about the findings of the research, 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.”
An innovative new blood test can detect breast cancer up to 5 years before symptoms appear, researchers say. Developed by a team at the University of Nottingham, England, the new blood test identifies specific immune system ‘autoantibodies’, which are produced when tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) are present – like those produced by breast cancer cells. While the test is still only partially effective, it could eventually provide the best chance of detecting breast cancer early, enabling faster treatment and a greater chance of success. In the pilot study, the researchers took blood samples from 90 breast cancer patients when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. They then matched these samples with ones from 90 patients without breast cancer. Then, they used a technology called protein microarray to test the blood samples for the presence of autoantibodies and 40 TAAs associated with breast cancer, plus another 27 TAAs that were not known to be linked with the disease). The researchers used a technology called protein microarray to rapidly test the blood samples for autoantibodies against 40 TAAs associated with breast cancer, plus another 27 TAAs that were not known to be linked with the disease. Speaking last Sunday at the U.K. National Cancer Research Institute conference in Glasgow, Scotland, researcher Daniyah Alfattani, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nottingham's Centre of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer (CEAC), said: “The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens. We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood.” At present, annual mammograms are the best way for doctors to detect the presence of breast cancer while in its early stages.
Overweight or obese women may not detect cancerous breast lumps until they are much larger and more difficult to treat, a Swedish study has found. Researchers from the Karolinksa Institute studied more than 2,000 women who developed breast cancer between 2001 and 2008, all of who had been receiving mammograms every 18 months to two years, as is standard in Sweden. They found that women with higher body mass indexes (BMIs) were more likely to have a larger tumour when detected than women who were slimmer. Lead author of the study, Fredrik Strand, said this was either because the tumours were harder to detect because overweight women have larger breasts or because their tumours grew faster. Women who are overweight are already at greater risk of developing breast cancer and, unfortunately, larger tumours carry a worse prognosis. Therefore, these women may need more frequent mammograms to help spot tumours early, say the researchers. Women who are judged to be at greater risk of developing breast cancer – such as those with a family history – are already offered more frequent screening. Speaking about the findings of the study, Strand said: “Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important 'pro' argument”.
According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, women should have a mammogram every two years once they reach the age of 50 and, even though routing screening for women in the 40s doesn’t hurt, it brings little benefits and should be an entirely personal choice. The task force also said that there still isn’t enough evidence to say whether more modern 3D mammograms are the best option for routine screening, or if extra testing is required for women with denser breasts. However, the advice has left some individuals confused as the American Cancer Society has long recommended yearly mammograms for women once they enter their 40s. Even though medical insurance often covers the cost of a mammogram, the task force still advises women to consult with their doctors on a one-to-one basis to discuss the pros and cons of screening. Task force chairman Dr. Michael LeFevre of the University of Missouri said: “Screening is most beneficial for women ages 50 to 74.” The report also found that 576 more false alarms were recorded when women started having biennial mammograms in their 40s instead of their 50s. This causes unnecessary stress, unneeded biopsies and over-diagnosis. While the report from the government advisory panel has only just been released, it is an open draft available for public comment until May 18. Photo credit: American Cancer Society
If you’re a woman over the age of 40 you should undergo routine health check-ups, even if you aren’t exhibiting any symptoms or feeling unwell. Some of these tests will probably be new to you but they are ultimately important. The earlier that cancers and other conditions are detected, the greater chance of a full recovery. Therefore, the following screening tests for women should be carried out in addition to the ones outlined in our previous blog post. Cervical Cancer Screening Even though cervical cancer screening tests are regular occurrences for women of all ages, it is important that you continue them as you get older. During screening, a doctor or nurse will use a speculum to hold your vagina open and gently collect some cells from your cervix using a small brush. These cells are subsequently tested in a laboratory and if your sample is normal, you will be invited for another test every three years until you reach the age of 49, after which time the screening schedule is extended to every five years until you reach the age of 64. Breast Cancer Screening Depending on your medical history and country of residence, you will usually be invited for a mammogram between your 50th and 53rd birthday. However, you should get into the habit of regularly checking your breasts and seeking medical advice if you detect anything unusual. Breast cancer screening is designed to pick up any signs of breast cancer at an early stage, making any subsequent treatment more likely to be effective. During your screening you’ll be asked to undress to the waist and your breasts will be X-rayed two times. Bone Test Osteoporosis affects both men and women but it is more common in women over the age of 50. The primary symptom of the disease is a tendency for bones to fracture easily. A DEXA bone scan will help determine if you have Osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it in the future. The scan itself is a special type of X-ray that measures your bone mineral density – hence why it is also known as a bone density scan – and is quick and painless.