One of Britain's leading biomedical scientists says, NHS can save hundreds of lives each year by adopting a computerised technique for breast cancer screening.
While speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, Professor Sir Michael Brady warned that relying on the judgment of radiologists meant that about 20 per cent of cancer cases were missed at the first screening.
AdvertisementSir Michael, who has spent 20 years developing mammography software, gave his address at the ceremony in London at which he was awarded the Sir Frank Whittle Medal - one of Britain's most prestigious engineering prizes.
"Mammograms are notoriously difficult to interpret, even experienced radiologists evaluate scans differently, so automating the system would make the process much more reliable," Times Online quoted him as saying.
Above the age of 50, when most women become eligible for the NHS screening programme, dense milk-producing tissue is gradually replaced with lighter fatty tissue.
Previous studies have shown that women who retain a higher percentage of dense tissue are at significantly greater risk of breast cancer, but measuring this by eye is difficult.
About 20 per cent of cancer cases are missed and 80 per cent of those recalled for a biopsy are healthy.
In one study, two experienced radiographers were asked to examine identical images and estimate the percentage of dense tissue.
One estimated the figure at 25 per cent, while the other gave a 40 per cent estimate.
Sir Michael argues that his software, called Volpara, could reduce these figures dramatically.
A clinical trial of 2,500 women in the US, the Netherlands and New Zealand, showed that Volpara reduced the number of cases missed to 5 per cent.