Mammographic screening reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer, however, interpretation of mammographic images is challenging, subject to human variability, and has some room for improvement. Despite independent double reading of all mammograms by radiologists (and a third arbitration read if there is disagreement), approximately 33,000 Australian women are recalled annually for assessment and later determined not to have breast cancer (false positive), whilst approximately 1,000 women subsequently discover they have breast cancer after receiving an ‘all clear” result (false negative). The cost of the public breast screening program, at over $300m annually, is also rising with Australia’s ageing population.

A unique cross-disciplinary health research team, BRAIx is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and brings together clinicians, AI scientists and epidemiological and genomic researchers. The diverse team is headed by Adjunct Associate Professor Helen Frazer (Clinical Director, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne BreastScreen) and the project is being jointly developed by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, SVI, BreastScreen Victoria, University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Machine Learning at the University of Adelaide.

The BRAIx project aims to transform breast cancer screening using artificial intelligence (AI). The team has demonstrated the opportunity to significantly improve screening outcomes, lower harms and reduce costs using AI.

“It is clear that technological development is key to the improved detection of breast cancer,” says Dr Davis McCarthy, Head of Bioinformatics & Cellular Genomics at SVI and one of the BRAIx Chief Investigators. “Data shows us that over the past 20 years, breast cancer deaths have decreased by 32% in response to screening and treatment advances.”