Can a machine catch a breast cancer tumor better than a human?

Radiologists at Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Boca Regional Hospital have been working to find that answer. They began adding artificial intelligence technology to existing 3D mammography for breast cancer screening in 2020. With three years of results, they discovered AI can make a significant difference in finding cancer.

Both the radiologists at the Institute (part of Baptist Health South Florida) and the machines read thousands of mammogram results each year. In some instances, AI helped catch cancers before they could be detected by the human eye. Since implementing AI, their detection rate has improved 23%.

“In the past, if we found 100 cancers, today with AI we will find 123,” said Dr. Kathy Schilling medical director of Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute.

“This is significant, because finding a cancer earlier could mean that a patient may not require chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” she says. “The types of cancers we are currently finding are smaller and of lower stage, reducing the need for advanced treatments.”

Dr. Louise Morrell, an oncologist at Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, said the findings have led Baptist Health to expand the use of AI to all imaging centers across the hospital system.

Artificial intelligence also is being studied for customized treatment. A team at University of Florida is studying whether the right combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy can combat aggressive breast cancer and how AI can help. Mohammed Gbadamosi, a researcher in the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, has secured a $1.25 million grant to launch his own independent academic research laboratory and build a team focused on developing breast cancer treatment strategies. The team will apply artificial intelligence to construct computer models for personalizing treatment based on a patient’s tumor genetics.

Other local research and clinical trials

Medication is evolving to better treat certain types of breast cancer and keep them from spreading. Oncologists at The Michael and Dianne Bienes Comprehensive Cancer Center at Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale are enrolling patients with HR+, HER2-negative breast cancer in a clinical trial for a drug made by Tolmar called TOL2506. The trial is evaluating whether the medication suppresses ovarian estrogen production in premenopausal women who are undergoing chemotherapy. If effective, this would reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back. It also is evaluating the safety of the drug in men. So far, Holy Cross has one patient participating and is screening three more for the trial.

A chemical compound may help stop breast cancer in the earliest of stages.  A team of University of Florida medicinal chemists and cancer biologists has created a compound that can help cells dispose of proteins that cause cancer cells to grow. In laboratory testing in breast cancer cells, the compound, known as YX968, effectively targeted unwanted proteins in cancer cells and then degrading them —  without harming healthy genes. Only a small amount of the YX968 compound was needed.

“These compounds act like matchmakers, bringing together two proteins so one can destroy the other one,” said Yufeng Xiao, the study’s co-first author. The researchers are refining the compound’s design to make it more of a drug so it can be tested in animal models. The long-term goal is to develop a new therapeutic that is safe and effective.  Xiao said that will require a clinical trial in humans which will take several years.

Race may be affecting the late stages of breast cancer diagnosis. Black women have a 40% higher death rate compared to white women, according to the American Cancer Society. Studies are underway in South Florida to learn more.

  • Florida Atlantic University Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing researchers recently conducted a study in a sample of about 400 Black women receiving care at its nurse-led FAU/Northwest Community Health Alliance Community Health Center in West Palm Beach. They looked at mammography screening frequency, beliefs about breast cancer including perceived susceptibility, perceived benefits and perceived barriers to screening. Almost half reported having annual mammograms; the remainder reported having mammograms every two to three years, and some women never had a mammogram in their lifetime, despite being age 40 or older. The majority of the women believed their chances of getting breast cancer was “very unlikely” but they did feel that having a mammogram would be beneficial. “Perceived barriers to and beliefs about mammography screening should be taken into consideration when designing interventions to increase breast cancer screening in Black women,” said Karen Wisdom-Chambers, co-author of the study and an assistant professor in FAU’s College of Nursing.
  • University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers are participating in a clinical trial designed to understand why Black men and women are at higher risk of developing and dying from aggressive prostate and breast cancer. The national trial, called the African Cancer Genome Registry, is recruiting cancer patients to participate. “Please, please do it, if not for yourself, then for the next generation,” said Charinus Johnson-Davis, a Miami breast cancer survivor and one of the first local trial enrollees.

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