Artificial intelligence can more accurately diagnose early-stage breast cancer from mammograms than doctors can, new research has shown.

Findings from a large dataset from the UK and the US reveal AI technology to be more successful than human experts in predicting breast cancer. The way mammograms are interpreted by clinicians is currently affected by high rates of false negatives and false positives but, in the independent study, AI outperformed six radiologists.

The international team of researchers, including experts from Google Health and Imperial College London, designed a computer model and used it on X-ray images from almost 29,000 women, whose identities were kept anonymous. While NHS results are obtained by two radiologists analysing each X-ray - with a third doctor brought in to look at unclear cases - the AI model was as good as two doctors and better at spotting cancer than a single doctor. 

The AI technology - which didn’t have access to patient notes and history, as radiologists currently do - led to a 1.2% reduction in false positives (where a mammogram is incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal) and a 2.7% decrease in false negatives (where cancer is missed).

Google Health researcher Dominic King said: "Our team is really proud of these research findings, which suggest that we are on our way to developing a tool that can help clinicians spot breast cancer with greater accuracy."

Cancer is the leading cause of all avoidable deaths in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and breast cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for 15% of cases in women and men. Prostate and lung cancer (13%) are the next most common, followed by bowel cancer (12%).

With more NHS patients turning to private health insurance for surgery, cancer treatment times increasingly being missed and the election causing a huge surge in health insurance enquiries, January is a good time to think about your own health needs and goals. 

According to financial information business Defaqto*, 38 out of 51 health insurance products include cancer cover. Benefits vary between providers; for example, our partner Bupa can offer breakthrough treatment not otherwise available on the NHS under its Fundamentals policy, while Vitality cancer cover includes hormone therapy, reconstructive surgery and stem cell therapy, as well as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and follow-up consultations.

To compare health insurance quotes, use our online tool or chat to our team on 0800 862 0373. And if you want to use the winter months to make some new insurance resolutions, read on!


* Data sourced on January 2, 2020.

 Get a Health Insurance quote now