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Women’s views on AI in healthcare and breast cancer screening


AI can be used for triage in breast cancer screening. A recent study of how women view the use of AI in mammography provides valuable insights for developing future ethical and legal frameworks for integrating AI in healthcare. 

Understanding women’s viewpoints is essential for effectively integrating AI into breast cancer screening. A qualitative interview study published in BMJ Open has significant relevance for the ongoing debate surrounding AI in healthcare. 

The researchers interviewed Swedish women who were already actively undergoing a breast cancer screening programme, with AI as a third reviewer. The authors report that the women perceived AI as a valuable tool to aid radiologists but did not believe they should replace them entirely. To trust AI algorithms, women highlighted the need for thorough evaluation, transparency regarding AI implementation in healthcare, and the presence of a radiologist in the assessment process. 

350 women between the ages of 40 and 74 undergo their screening examination, every day, in Sweden. It is the second most common cancer-related cause of death among women in Sweden. 

The authors found that women who participate in mammography view AI as one of many tools in the healthcare system, not as a standalone solution. They acknowledge its potential but emphasize its role in complementing existing practices rather than replacing the radiologists entirely. However, if healthcare professionals determine that AI functions equally or even better than traditional screening processes, then the participants find the implementation of AI without explicit consent acceptable. 

According to the authors, the participants clearly emphasized the ethical principles of fairness, privacy, responsibility, and accuracy while underscoring the competence of radiologists and the importance of transparency. Their overall positive attitude toward the technology is evident. 

“One major strength of our study is that we interviewed women who were actively undergoing mammography, where AI was utilized as a third reviewer. This means we have addressed the hypothetical bias commonly encountered in studies.”, says Jennifer Viberg Johansson, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics at Uppsala University’s Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics 

The results highlight the significance of maintaining human engagement in the decision-making process when it comes to mammography pictures and the critical role that confidence in AI plays. According to the authors this suggests the need for a strong emphasis on open communication and thorough patient education on the role of AI in breast cancer screening, are essential for guaranteeing the successful and well-received implementation of AI. 

According to the authors, women prefer AI to be sensitive when detecting potential cancers, even though it may increase their level of anxiety. Participants stressed the value of openness and the competency of radiologists. It's clear that they have an optimistic outlook on technology generally but see its role as a complement to existing practices rather than a replacement. But effective communication about the role and limitations of AI is critical for patients to understand and maintain trust in the healthcare system. 

 By Svea Fernow 

Last modified: 2024-03-19