Artificial intelligence is penetrating our lives and now doctors say it can help save our lives. AI and breast imaging are helping doctors better detect cancer.

For even the highly trained eye, it’s difficult to spot the suspicious lesion on some mammograms. But artificial intelligence can.

Think of it as another set of eyes scrolling through thousands of images, just like radiologists do. For nearly a decade, NorthShore University HealthSystems radiologist Dr Georgia Spear has been using computer-aided detection – a form of artificial intelligence — in the reading room, particularly for women with dense breast tissue. 

“If a woman has more white on her mammogram, her tissue is more dense and cancer appears as white as well,” she said.

That’s where the technology is making the biggest impact. In breast imaging, the machine-learning platform is fed thousands of images and taught to identify potential tumors. Spear often combines AI with 3D ultrasound.

During a recent ultrasound she shared with WGN’s Medical Watch team, Spear said, “If we didn’t use AI, if we didn’t utilize 3D ultrasound on woman’s tissue there is a good chance this would have grown affected her nodes and it would take us many more years to find it.”

While it’s not perfect, the computer program can help prevent false-positives.

“Some of these technologies are boasting at least 93 percent sensitivity or even greater numbers,” she said. “And so in combination with our trained eye and our expertise, we’re really making some serious headwinds in finding these cancers early and being more effective.”

Doctors are also using AI programs to assess a woman’s risk and to make sure technologists are taking the most optimized images during a mammogram. Spear is part of a larger advocacy group to ensure all patients have access to the latest technology in breast cancer detection.

Join WGN News Saturday, October 28 at 6:30 p.m. for “Stories of Hope – Facing Breast Cancer” — a half-hour special that will explore a variety of topics for patients and their families including fertility preservation, nutrition and even aritificial intelligence and its use in mammography.

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