AI May Be Better Than Doctors at Detecting Breast Cancer, Study Says

  • Experts are debating the most effective uses of artificial intelligence as the technology grows.
  • One of the most beneficial use cases so far has been the tech’s ability to identify cancer, the NYT reported. 
  • Studies in Hungary and other parts of Europe have found it equally as capable as humans.

The ever-growing wave of artificial intelligence technology is continuing to expand into the field of medicine, as several clinics across the globe begin experimenting with AI to help doctors detect breast cancer.

Hungary has been one of the largest and earliest adopters of the technology, as at least five hospitals or clinics that perform thousands of breast cancer scans per year have used AI programs since 2021, according to the New York Times. The success of using AI to detect cancer in the Hungarian clinics has inspired doctors in England, Scotland, and Finland to also experiment with the technology, per the Times.

In a study published last year that charted an AI program’s ability to identify breast cancer in 250,000 scans, the technology was found to be as effective, if not more so, than a human radiologist, and was also able to read scans more quickly overall.

The study concluded that incorporating the technologies into the medical field could reduce the workload of radiologists by having an automated system that can provide a second opinion quickly and accurately.

Companies have been developing such programs for years, as existing artificial intelligence technologies grow increasingly capable of more complex tasks. Insider previously reported on programs created by Google that were capable of sometimes outperforming doctors while they was still in development in 2020.

One doctor who spoke to the Times said AI systems could help prevent human error caused by fatigue, as human radiologists could miss life-threatening cancer in a scan while working long shifts.

Another told the Times he was shocked at how effective the AI programs were after he presented the software with some of the most difficult cases of his career — including instances in which other radiologists had missed signs of cancer in a scan — and the program correctly identified the cancer every time.

However, several doctors and AI experts told the Times AI technology will never replace doctors, but instead by used to complement care, for example by having one or two doctors evaluate scans to look for cancer, and then using an AI system to double check anything they may have missed.

“An AI-plus-doctor should replace doctor alone, but an AI should not replace the doctor,” Peter Kecskemethy, a computer scientist and cofounder of a company that develops the AI programs assisting doctors, told the Times.

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