The computers flag suspicious areas on X-rays for a closer look by a radiologist. Mammograms are used to screen women for early signs of breast cancer, but the tests aren't perfect. In the U.S., the X-rays are read by a single radiologist and cancers are sometimes missed.
Computer-aided detection, or CAD, was developed to help radiologists pick up more cancers. Approved a decade ago, these computer programs are used for about a third of the nation's mammograms. But the value and accuracy of the technology has continued to be debated.
Now, British researchers are reporting results from a randomized study of 31,000 women. Mammograms in Britain are routinely checked by two radiologists or technicians, which is thought to be better than a single review. Researchers wanted to know whether one expert aided by a computer could do as well as two pairs of eyes.
They found that computer-aided detection spotted nearly the same number of cancers, 198 out of 227, compared to 199 for the two readers.
In places such as the U.S., "Where single reading is standard practice, computer-aided detection has the potential to improve cancer-detection rates to the level achieved by double reading," the researchers said. Their findings were published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine .