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Breast screening technology developed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can detect abnormalities that would have been missed using current screening procedures, writes the University of Aberdeen in a press release

  • AI proved to detect abnormalities that would have been missed with current screening procedures;
  • The software recalled a third of the women who went on to develop cancer in between screenings;

From research to delivery in clinical settings, this groundbreaking work undertaken by the University of Aberdeen, NHS Grampian, and Kheiron Medical Technologies has included the analysis of 220 thousand of mammograms from more than 55 thousand people in determining how well an AI tool could detect breast cancers.  

The AI software, named ‘Mia’, created by Kheiron Medical Technologies Ltd., was assessed by a research team led by Professor Lesley Anderson, Chair in Health Data Science at the University of Aberdeen, as part of the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD) program. Dr. Clarisse de Vries, a Radiology Imaging Researcher at the University of Aberdeen, led the data analysis.  

Identifying missed cancers

The analysis found that Mia successfully identified potentially missed cancers, known as ‘interval’ cancers, detected between screening visits. The team found that Mia would have suggested recalling 34.1 percent of the women who went on to develop cancer in between screenings. Using current screening measures, these cancers remained undetected until the women developed symptoms.  

Dr. De Vries explains: “Currently, two experts examine each mammogram and decide whether the person should be invited back for additional investigations. If the two experts disagree, a third expert makes the final decision.  Like a human expert, Mia can examine a screening mammogram and give an opinion on whether that person should be invited back for additional investigations. 

“Our finding is a massive step forward in using AI technology in diagnostic medicine – we showed that once ‘tuned’ to the local environment, AI can be of enormous benefit to clinicians and, importantly, people who may be at risk of developing cancer.” 

Improving the health service

Consultant radiologist Dr. Gerald Lip has been instrumental in embedding Mia in clinical settings: “When originally applied to the data from NHS Grampian, Mia was too sensitive – recommending the recall of women for further investigation when it may not be necessary. However, Mia’s performance markedly improved when adjusted to suit the local conditions and technology, recalling a minimum number of women possible while maintaining a high cancer detection rate.   

“Previously, it was unclear whether AI tools developed elsewhere could be used in different settings and screening centers. Now we know there are risks in just taking an AI tool developed elsewhere and implementing it locally. You must first test the tool on the local data to ensure it will work as expected,” Lip said.  

Professor Roger Staff, Head of Imaging Physics at NHS Grampian, added: “This is a critical study, identifying the steps required to get this technology into service. Although the results indicate that the technology is not quite ‘plug and play,’ it has the potential for major health and operational gains for the service”.