2020 breakthroughs: Breast cancer screening & AI

Maud Webster reflects on one of 2020's significant scientific breakthroughs

Maud Webster
15th December 2020
A remarkable breakthrough for medicine came right at the start of the year, when Google’s DeepMind AI proved itself superior to human doctors at screening for breast cancer.

Researchers at Imperial College London ‘trained’ a computer, using the DeepMind algorithm, to spot signs of cancer on nearly 29 000 X-ray images of women. The rate of accuracy at spotting cancer was compared to the success of doctors. 

The experiment was also conducted using photos of women from the US; in both cases, it was concluded that the AI was more effective than the medical professionals at correctly identifying cases of breast cancer. 

The study found noticeable improvements, particularly in the US, namely a reduction of 5.7% in false positives (exam incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal) and 9.4% in false negatives, where a cancer hasn’t been identified but should have been. These margins are smaller in the UK study, though are still noticeable (1.2% and 2.7%).

When implemented into hospitals, this discovery has the potential to provide an immediate second opinion, immensely aid doctors when conducting mammogram exams and reduce the rate of both false positives and missed cancers.

Featured Image: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
(She / Her) Second-year Architecture & Planning student at Newcastle University, and arts sub-editor for the 20/21 academic year.

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