Mammograms read by computers 'boost cancer detection'

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Health experts believe a computer can safely replace a medical professional in interpreting breast X-rays.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine today claims that a single trained expert plus a computer is just as effective at detecting breast cancer as the current system in the UK where two experts read a mammogram.

In the United States and some European countries only a single expert reads mammograms. The authors of today's report claim that single readers using the computer aided detection programme (CAD) will be even more effective at detecting breast cancer.

Researchers found that film readers using the computer-aided detection (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.

Professor Stephen Duffy, Cancer Research UK's professor of cancer screening, 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 cancer as the one used as standard practice.

"It means that the workload of radiologists and trained technicians who traditionally read all breast X-rays could be reduced by bringing in computers to help them."

Currently, some women are not receiving their screening invitations as regularly as they should, every three years, due to the fact that there are simply not enough experts available, the authors claim.

"The CAD system would free up radiologists to work on more mammograms as only one instead of two would be required to read each X-ray," Professor Duffy added.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK?s director of information, added: "This is good news for women - particularly for those who live in areas where invitations for screening have been late in arriving."

She said it was bound to lead to an improvement in the national screening programme.

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