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Radiologists super-sharp at spotting cancer

By John von Radowitz

Published 30/08/2016

Experienced radiologists can spot subtle signs of breast cancer in mammogram images in just half a second, a study has found. File image
Experienced radiologists can spot subtle signs of breast cancer in mammogram images in just half a second, a study has found. File image

Experienced radiologists can spot subtle signs of breast cancer in mammogram images in just half a second, a study has found.

Often they have no more than a "hunch" something is wrong. But in reality their sharp eyes and brains pick up abnormalities at an astonishing speed, researchers believe.

Furthermore, they seem to be able to recognise cancer in images that show no obvious signs of disease.

Dr Jeremy Wolfe, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US, who led the study of 49 radiologists, said: "Radiologists can have 'hunches' after a first look at a mammogram. We found these hunches are based on something real in the images.

"It's really striking that in the blink of an eye, an expert can pick up on something about that mammogram that indicates abnormality. Not only that, but they can detect something abnormal in the other breast, the breast that does not contain a lesion."

In clinics radiologists carefully evaluate mammograms with the help of computer-automated image screening systems.

While in reality they would never make a diagnosis based on a half-second-long assessment, tests showed they were able to identify abnormalities at better than chance levels within this time. Their accuracy did not depend on breast symmetry or density, but was improved by finer details of the texture of breast tissue.

"These results suggest that there may be something in the nominally normal breast that looks abnormal and is detectable," said Dr Wolfe.

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