BREAST screening technology developed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can detect abnormalities that would have been missed using current screening procedures.

An analysis of 220,000 mammograms from more than 55,000 people was carried out over three years in a joint project by Aberdeen University, NHS Grampian and Kheiron Medical Technologies to determine how well an AI tool could detect breast cancers.

The team’s findings are published in the journal Radiology: Artificial Intelligence.

The AI software, named 'Mia' and created by Kheiron Medical Technologies Ltd., was found to be successful at identifying potentially missed cancers - known as 'interval' cancers - which are detected between screening visits.

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The team found that Mia would have suggested recalling 34.1% 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.

The research was led by Professor Lesley Anderson, chair in Health Data Science at Aberdeen University, as part of the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD) programme.

Dr Clarisse de Vries, Radiology Imaging Researcher, at the University of Aberdeen led the data analysis.

Dr De Vries said: “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.

“Similar to a human expert, Mia can examine a screening mammogram and give an opinion as to whether that person should be invited back for additional investigations.

“Mia has previously been developed and tested on some groups, but until now had not yet been used on data from the NHS in Scotland.

“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.”

Consultant radiologist Dr Gerald Lip has been instrumental in embedding Mia in clinical settings.

He noted that initially Mia had been too susceptible to false positives - meaning that women would be recommended for further investigations which were not necessary.

Dr Lip added: "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."

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The study forms part of the GEMINI (Grampian’s Evaluation of Mia in an Innovative National breast screening Initiative) project, an initiative to evaluate the impact of introducing AI into the breast screening programme within NHS Grampian.

Dr De Vries said: “Our results show that AI, and in this case Mia, offers huge potential for detecting cancers that may otherwise be missed.

“Fundamentally however, our study shows that AI tools must be tested first and tuned for the local population and conditions and we have been fortunate to have been able to do just that here in Grampian.”

The next phase of the research will explore how best to use Mia in a live clinical setting. 

Peter Kecskemethy, CEO of Kheiron, said: "Working with NHS Grampian and University of Aberdeen teams has been an immense privilege.

"They are the UK pioneers of how AI technology should be evaluated and implemented in radiology and we could not be more excited about collaborating on the next stage of the journey."

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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".