A new study out of Sweden offers a resounding vote of confidence in the use of AI for analyzing screening mammograms. Published in The Lancet Oncology, researchers found that AI cut radiologist workload almost by half without affecting cancer detection or recall rates.
AI has been promoted as the technology that could save radiology from rising imaging volumes, growing burnout, and pressure to perform at a higher level with fewer resources. But many radiology professionals remember similar promises made in the 1990s around computer-aided detection (CAD), which failed to live up to the hype.
Breast screening presents a particular challenge in Europe, where clinical guidelines call for all screening exams to be double-read by two radiologists – leading to better sensitivity but also imposing a higher workload. AI could help by working as a triage tool, enabling radiologists to only double-read those cases most likely to have cancer.
In the MASAI study, researchers are assessing AI for breast screening in 100k women in a population-based screening program in Sweden, with mammograms being analyzed by ScreenPoint’s Transpara version 1.7.0 software. In an in-progress analysis, researchers looked at results for 80k mammography-eligible women ages 40-80.
The Transpara software applies a 10-point score to mammograms; in MASAI those scored 1-9 are read by a single radiologist, while those scored 10 are read by two breast radiologists. This technique was compared to double-reading, finding that:
- AI reduced the mammography reading workload by almost 37k screening mammograms, or 44%
- AI had a higher cancer detection rate per 1k screened participants (6.1 vs. 5.1) although the difference was not statistically significant (P=0.052)
- Recall rates were comparable (2.2% vs. 2.0%)
The results demonstrate the safety of using AI as a triage tool, and the MASAI researchers plan to continue the study until it reaches 100k participants so they can measure the impact of AI on detection of interval cancers – cancers that appear between screening rounds.
It’s hard to overestimate the MASAI study’s significance. The findings strongly support what AI proponents have been saying all along – that AI can save radiologists time while maintaining diagnostic performance. The question is the extent to which the MASAI results will apply outside of the double-reading environment, or to other clinical use cases.