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Computers could assist doctors in screening for breast cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 September 2006

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A revolutionary way to read mammograms with the help of a computer could free up time for hundreds of medical experts and so speed the breast screening process.

Cancer Research UK scientists have found that the workload of radiologists – who read breast x- rays – could be almost halved by using computers to detect cancer.

Study results published* today show that mammograms read by a single expert as well as a computer are just as accurate as those read by two experts. And in some cases the new combination could be even more successful.

The computer aided detection (CAD) programme scans the mammograms for suspicious features or irregularities that could be caused by tumours. When the computer finds anything unusual it indicates the irregularity on a screen for the radiologist to check.

Researchers took more than 10,000 mammograms that had previously each been read by two radiologists. These mammograms were read again by a single radiologist who was prompted by the computer to double check suspicious areas for any abnormalities.

The results showed that the cancer detection rate using CAD rate was at least as good as the traditional method.

Professor Fiona Gilbert, of Aberdeen University, who led the study, said: “The results of this trial are very encouraging. The mammograms studied were from a sample taken in 1996 so that all cancers that developed subsequently in this group of women could be included. The study was retrospective so the radiologists taking part in the trial knew no action would be taken as a result of their decisions.

“We have now embarked on a new study to confirm that the CAD result is still as good when used in real day to day decision making about breast cancer diagnosis.”

Dr Sue Astley of Manchester University, who also worked on the study, said: “This new prospective trial will involve 30,000 women in three major screening centres, most of whom will have single reading with CAD in addition to their routine double reading. This is an opportunity for women in the UK to have their mammograms read using the latest CAD technology which is already available in America and some European countries.”

Professor Stephen Duffy, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist who also worked on the study, said: “The great advantage of CAD is that, if we confirm the very promising results of this study in a prospective trial, it could help manpower problems in the breast screening service.

“In some areas women do not get their screening invitations as regularly as they should (every three years) because there are simply not enough experts to go round. The CAD system would free up hundreds of radiologists to work on more mammograms as only one instead of two would be required to work on each x- ray.”

Professor John Toy, medical director for Cancer Research UK, said: “If a prospective trial confirms these results it would be very good news for the national screening programme and more importantly, therefore, also for women.”

* Radiology


For media enquiries please contact Sally Staples in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.