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How artificial intelligence is powering efforts to detect breast cancer

Using Volpara’s software, doctors can identify patients who would benefit from additional imaging, such as ultrasound.

Artificial intelligence is powering an effort to detect breast cancer, a disease that kills more than 600 Kiwis each year.

Screening for breast cancer has made a world of difference since free mammograms were first offered here around 20 years ago. Deaths from the disease are down 27 percent.

But it is difficult to isolate cancers in mammogram images of particularly dense breast tissue – both types appear white on typical X-rays. So scientists and radiographers have had to innovate to increase breast cancer detection accuracy.

Wellington-based Volpara Health Technologies is a world leader in software for automatically and objectively assessing a woman’s breast density.

Using Volpara’s software, doctors can identify patients who would benefit from additional imaging, such as ultrasound. This technique helps detect cancers in their earliest stages, reducing the incidence of ‘interval cancers’ arising between breast screenings and reducing treatment costs overall.

The Volpara system relies on Power BI, Microsoft’s suite of AI tools, to analyse every mammogram to assess breast density. That involves storing large numbers of images that Volpara can use to train its detection software.

“The Azure platform meets the highest security standards globally while at the same time being accessible. It allows us to securely store the images we need to further develop and deploy our AI solutions”, says Dr Ralph Highnam, Volpara’s Chief Executive.

Highnam founded Volpara to save families from breast cancer by applying  AI to some of the most pervasive obstacles in cancer detection.

A decade on from founding Volpara, the ASX-listed company’s software is used in private hospitals around the world, from the US to Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Volpara recently began supporting Auckland-based Mercy Radiology and has signed a contract with its first public sector client, BreastScreen Central in Lower Hutt. Through Microsoft’s Co-Sell programme, which promotes customers’ software around the world and provides technical, marketing and business development support, Volpara is entering new markets.

Microsoft facilitated a trial with healthcare providers in Singapore through the Co-Sell programme.

 “AI is a key component in improving breast density assessment and helping ensure that cancers are not missed by radiologists,” says Highnam.

The next step is to harness the power of AI to really accelerate computer-aided breast cancer detection and save more lives all over the world.

For more information on how Volpara harnessed the power of Microsoft’s Azure platform and Power BI tools, visit https://aka.ms/VolparaHealth