COVID-19 has greatly impacted cancer screening in the U.S. Many women have had to delay their scheduled mammograms because screening centers were closed. Others postponed their mammograms, fearing that going for a mammogram would increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
By contrast, in many low and middle-income countries (LMIC), delayed diagnosis is all too often the norm, not the exception. In addition, in most low- to middle-income countries breast cancer is more often diagnosed in premenopausal women. In contrast, in the U.S., it’s more often diagnosed in postmenopausal women. Another key difference: In the U.S. breast cancer is most often diagnosed based upon a screening mammogram, while in low- to middle-income countries it’s typically diagnosed when women go to their doctors because they have found a lump in their breast.
For the last four years under NIH project #5UH3CA189966, we have been working with health care providers in Guadalajara, Mexico, an area in which women typically face limited access to mammography screening and long delays for diagnostic ultrasounds, on a study of our Self-Reading Portable Ultrasound, a device we believe will help women receive more timely breast cancer diagnoses. As in the U.S., many hospitals in Mexico have been overwhelmed by COVID patients, and many breast cancer studies, including ours, were put on hold. We are pleased to announce that we have been able to put into place the new protocols that will get our study back up and running with renewed momentum.
For the next phase of our research study, we are expanding our partnership with GE — which is helping us pro-bono. In this phase, we will be collecting images on a hand-held ultrasound machine, the Vscan Extend, which is on loan to us from GE, and on a standard ultrasound on women in Guadalajara who have a breast lump. These images will be used to train a new artificial intelligence program GE is developing that will drive the self-reading portable ultrasound, prioritizing patients for the radiologist.
To date, we have enrolled 369 women in the original research study. After we complete this phase and are certain our artificial intelligence gives accurate information, we will launch a validation study. This review board-approved research study, which will also take place in Guadalajara, will use the GE Vscan Extend ultrasound and our artificial intelligence to image up to 600 women who have a palpable breast lump. The radiologist, using a standard ultrasound, will guide their treatment and we will compare the radiologist’s reading and biopsy results (if performed) to that of the artificial intelligence. We are very excited about this work and hope it will improve the care for women everywhere.
No person should have to travel 10 hours to get a diagnostic ultrasound. Imagination and LOVE are at work to expand access to imaging with GE’s cutting-edge AI technology. We need your help to launch us into 2021 with the momentum we have carried through 2020. This will be a groundbreaking year for the Foundation and breast cancer research and, with your help, we will end breast cancer. Click here to Give the Gift of Research this holiday season.