Saturday, August 15, 2015

Five heads better than two for cancer diagnosis

CANCER DIGEST – Aug. 15, 2015 – If two heads are better than one, can having four or five radiologists read your mammogram increase the accuracy of the diagnosis? A new study of such “collective intelligence” suggests it might.

Currently two physicians typically read mammography screens resulting in about 20 percent of women with cancer diagnosed cancer-free, and another 20 percent without cancer diagnosed as having the disease. 

To see if more radiologists reading mammograms could improve the accuracy of the diagnosis, researchers led by Dr. Max Wolf, of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin used data from one of the largest international mammography databases, which includes a large number of mammograms. The database also includes the independent assessment of about one hundred radiologists as well as the health status, whether the patient actually had cancer or not. The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

What they found was that when the screens were read by as many as five independent physicians the diagnostic accuracy of even the best physician within the group improved. The benefit of additional assessment, however, leveled off at about eight assessments.

The researchers concluded that mammography screening could be improved using the principle of collective intelligence. Integrating such a system of having five radiologists assess every mammogram, however, could be difficult and expensive. The researchers, addressed this suggesting it might not be that difficult.

“The procedure is very simple and could easily be automated and integrated into the screening program,” the authors wrote. “The evaluators would independently assess the digital x-rays on the computer and give their vote. Afterwards, a final diagnosis would be made based on these assessments and the employed collective intelligence rule like majority vote.”

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