An artificial intelligence programme has been developed that outperforms clinical experts in detecting breast cancer in mammograms, according to researchers.
The study found that an AI system developed by Google Health can identify cancer in breast screening mammograms with fewer false positives and fewer false negatives than radiologists.
The programme was developed in collaboration with British AI firm DeepMind, Cancer Research UK, Royal Surrey County Hospital in England and Northwestern University in the US.
The team trained the system to identify breast cancers on more than 76,000 women in the UK and over 15,000 women in the US.
They then compared the system's performance with the actual results from a set of more than 25,000 women in the UK and over 3,000 women in the US.
The study showed the AI system could identify cancers with a similar degree of accuracy to radiologists, while reducing the number of false positive results by 1.2% in the UK-based group and 5.7% in the US-based group.
It also cut the number of false negatives, where tests are wrongly classified as normal, by 2.7% in the UK group and 9.4% in the US group.
These differences reflect the ways in which mammograms are read.
In the UK, the tests are done every three years, and each is read by two radiologists. When they disagree, a third is consulted.
In the US, only one radiologist reads the results and the tests are done every one to two years.
The team said that the study, published in the journal Nature, "set the stage" for the model to potentially support radiologists performing breast cancer screenings.
Dominic King, UK lead at Google Health, said: "Our team is really proud of these research findings, which suggest that we are on our way to developing a tool that can help clinicians spot breast cancer with greater accuracy.
"Further testing, clinical validation and regulatory approvals are required before this could start making a difference for patients, but we're committed to working with our partners towards this goal."
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "This is still early stage research, but it shows how AI could improve breast cancer screening and ease pressure off the NHS.
"And while further clinical studies are needed to see how and if this technology could work in practice, the initial results are promising."