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Beating breast cancer with Artificial Intelligence

Helen Frazer.

BreastScreen Victoria is part of a ground-breaking Australian study using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help improve and transform breast screening, set to benefit thousands of Australians.

The $2.26 million project aims to transform breast cancer screening in a way that improves detection, lowers harm, reduces cost, and causes less stress for those undergoing a mammogram.

Led by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, and supported by BreastScreen Victoria, the project is funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

A key component of the project is a series of studies where researchers will use an artificial intelligence algorithm they have trained to detect breast cancer in mammographic images.

The algorithm will be tested alongside scans that are done each day at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, home to Victoria’s largest BreastScreen clinic.

Project lead, Dr Helen Frazer, Clinical Director at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s BreastScreen, says the project has a unique opportunity to play a leading role in Australia’s battle against breast cancer.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women,” says Dr Frazer.

“While screening is very effective in reducing deaths, reading mammograms is challenging. More women are recalled to assessment after a mammogram than those who end up with an eventual cancer diagnosis.

“By using AI screening models alongside our existing practices, we hope to transform Australia’s breast screening program and help reduce the number of lives lost to breast cancer.”

Computational biologist Dr Davis McCarthy from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research says breast screen data is ideal for AI development.

“Working with BreastScreen Victoria allows us to draw on 20 years of high-quality data to inform our algorithm,” says Dr McCarthy.

“Importantly, our algorithm is designed in an Australian setting – training with machines and images that are relevant to Australian women.”

Dr Frazer says the project has the potential to not only tailor the program to meet each woman’s individual needs, but also enhance the experience for women.

“A woman who has a mammogram today would expect to get her result of an all clear in about two weeks’ time. With AI, this result could be instantaneous.

“By using AI we are confident we’ll be able to deliver more accurate results more quickly, reducing the stressful time spent waiting for the result,” says Dr Frazer.

The three-year research project also involves partners The University of Melbourne and The University of Adelaide.