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Texas hospital creates new breakthrough breast cancer risk tool

Texas hospital creates new breakthrough breast cancer risk tool

Houston, Methodist Hospital exterior, August 2017
A new tool taps into artificial intelligence breast cancer diagnosis.  Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

In the medical field, billions of dollars are wasted each year — about $935 billion, but who's counting? According to a paper published by the JAMA Network, an estimated $75.7 billion to $101.2 billion is wasted through overtreatment. Of the many procedures that can lead to wasted resources, breast cancer biopsies are a major source of overtreatment.

Now, Houston Methodist Hospital is using artificial intelligence to create a more efficient and accurate Breast Cancer Risk Calculator, called iBrisk.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Women are advised to start having annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer starting at age 40 to try to catch cancer in its earliest stages. With mammograms becoming a standard procedure, the process inevitably leads to more biopsies.

While more biopsies sound like the obvious course of action, the Houston hospital shares that out of 10,000 women biopsied, less than two will be positive while using the national standard. The result of a negative biopsy? Wasted time, resources, and money, as well as undue worry for the patient.

"It's not just wasteful. . . when you do an unnecessary procedure, you're potentially harming the patient," says Dr. Stephen Wong. After a negative biopsy, Wong explains, patients often begin to show emotional responses like high anxiety and low self-esteem. They often speculate the biopsies are wrong, and that they've had a missed cancer diagnosis by their medical provider.

Wong estimates that more than 700,000 patients have unnecessary biopsies in the breast cancer category alone.

Spearheading the iBrisk tool, Wong has found a way to utilize a smarter model than the current system for detecting breast cancer risk by using multiple patient data points and AI technology.

"While using AI, we try to simulate how the physician thinks," explains Wong. "The physician looks at different data: imaging, patient clinical data, demographic, history and other social factors. You don't rely on one particular thing."

Houston Methodist Hospital used an estimated 11,000 cases for training, and then used 2,200 of its own data to test iBrisk. They have even been able to create unbiased independent validation by working with other hospitals like MD Anderson, testing their patients using iBrisk and confirming the results.

The potential of iBrisk to cut costs and contribute to less overtreatment has garnered support with other hospitals around the country. The breast cancer risk calculator is a collaboration with Dr. Jenny Chang of HMCC and breast oncologists at MD Anderson, UT San Antonio, and University of Utah Cancer Center.

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Read an expanded version of this story on our sister site InnovationMap