The next wave in breast imaging

July 19, 2021
By Henry Izawa

They’re mothers, daughters, sisters, spouses, friends, and neighbors.
While 1 in 8 women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some point in her lifetime, the good news is that today there are over 3.5 million survivors in the United States.

Breast imaging will continue to play a critical role in catching cancers earlier, increasing chances for survival, and helping to eradicate the disease. There are three key avenues where we can expect new advances to drive more accurate diagnosis, rapid treatment, increased compliance, and better outcomes.

The first is artificial intelligence. AI has the potential to reshape modern healthcare. Research suggests that AI can work collaboratively alongside the radiologist to improve efficiency in screening mammography.

While larger data sets are needed before we can fully leverage AI in breast imaging, one key opportunity concerns decreasing false positives compared with presently available CAD solutions. AI also has the potential to improve workflow by flagging priority cases and directing mammographers to suspect areas. These exams would then automatically move up in the queue so radiologists can review and diagnose them immediately and efficiently prescribe next steps.

Since AI is scalable and has the potential to provide affordable, accurate initial interpretation for many mammograms, it offers the promise of boosting access to screening for underserved communities in extremely high patient caseloads while lowering costs.

For example, a triage approach could significantly reduce overall workload for clinicians, while maintaining high diagnostic accuracy. In this scenario, the majority of women with mammograms confidently interpreted as normal by the AI software could be recommended for routine mammography the following year, where the remainder of women would be referred for further clinician interpretation and work-up. This method is currently being pilot tested in remote parts of India.

The second key avenue is patient comfort. Only 67% of women receive their screenings on schedule, according to the American Cancer Society. In response, the industry is continuously putting a focus on patient comfort to increase compliance and referrals.

Time and again, studies have shown that fear and anxiety are barriers to mammography. In one study of 9,000 women, 13% cited physical pain and another 13% said they feared getting bad news as the reasons for skipping screenings.

Vendors will continue to develop compression and controls designed to more comfortably adapt to individual breast shapes, minimize pinch points and compression time. With this in mind, we can expect speedier scans and automation to minimize compression times, thereby lessening discomfort.

The mammography suite is evolving for patient comfort too, with providers addressing ambiance with soft lighting, scenic murals, even the ability for women to connect their phones to Bluetooth so they can listen to their own music. Anything to ease stress can potentially up compliance.

Henry Izawa
The third and final key avenue is personalized care. Individualization of screenings can result in higher accuracy, improved patient experiences and the ability to screen more patients. Current DNA profiling can identify and flag high risk patients, which is a great step forward and should be investigated further. We can see the future of AI contributing in combination with these technologies in a way that will provide a lower-cost solution to drive personalized care and drive early detection even further.

Through the advancement of technologies and processes that cater to personalized care, patient comfort and the implementation of AI, the next wave in breast imaging is poised to streamline workflow, drive faster diagnosis and treatment, and better patient outcomes.

About the author: Henry (Hidetoshi) Izawa, is the vice president of modality solutions and clinical affairs for Fujifilm Medical Systems U.S.A., Inc.