A safe replacement

According to a Cancer Research UK-funded study, computers could be used to safely replace a medical expert by interpreting a breast X-ray.

The study has shown that a single trained expert plus a computer is just as effective at detecting breast cancer as the two experts who traditionally read a mammogram in the UK.

But in the US and some other European countries only one expert reads mammograms. This means that single readers using the computer-aided detection programme (CAD) will be even more effective at detecting breast cancer.

Prof Fiona Gilbert of AberdeenUniversity and lead author of the study, said: ‘In the UK, this means that the same number of experts can read more mammograms in a given period of time.’

The study invited around 28,000 women to have their mammograms read both in the conventional way by two radiologists and also by a single radiologist using the computer.

Researchers found that film readers using a CAD programme – where mammograms were read by a single expert plus the computer – was as good at finding cancers as the standard UK practice where two experts read each mammogram.

Prof Stephen Duffy, professor of cancer screening at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Earlier studies had conflicting results about the success of the computer-aided readings. But this large study of 28,000 women carried out within the national programme means we can now say for certain that this system is as good at detecting breast cancers as the one used as standard practice.’

Dr Lesley Walker, director of information at Cancer Research UK, added: ‘Now we know that a computer can help give more accurate readings there is bound to be an improvement in the national screening programme, which already saves 1,400 lives a year through early detection of breast cancer.’