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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
National breast scan library proposed
A conventional mammogram
A nationwide archive of breast scans could help doctors diagnose women more accurately - and probe the causes of the disease.

A 4 million project - called eDiamond - backed by the government and computer firm IBM will see doctors in four UK hospitals given the ability to share digital versions of mammography images.

If the Oxford University project works there, it could be rolled out across the NHS.

A radiographer or doctor trying to interpret a borderline image could call up dozens of similar images to check the diagnosis, or compare the scan with those taken from women of a similar age or taking the same medication.

Data store

Approximately three million mammograms are taken every year in the UK - just over 30,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed.

Screening centres are looking for suspicious lumps or shadows on the scans which might suggest a breast tumour is developing.

However, every mammography machine gives a slightly different-looking image, and each radiographer will use a range of settings.

This makes it hard to compare scans taken in different locations.

Spot the difference

Professor Mike Brady, who works for the research firm Mirada Solutions - linked to Oxford University, said that the beauty of the digital archive was that every image stored was automatically converted into a compatible form.

He said: "The differences in image quality could mask clinically-significant signs - it's the single most important aspect of the system."

Scientists who wanted to carry out large-scale, epidemiological research on hundreds or thousands of images would also be able to call them up from the database - without falling foul of the Data Protection Act - as they would be supplied without the name of the patient involved.

Professor Brady said: "A researcher would be able to call up mammograms from, say, all women aged between 45 and 53 who both smoked and took hormone replacement therapy."

He estimated that it would cost in the region of between 15m and 20m to roll out the database to every screening centre.

File-sharing

Rather than holding all the data in one central location, it works on a file-sharing basis, with each centre keeping its own records and images, connected to the rest by ISDN lines.

The IBM "grid" software involved would give the illusion of a single, vast database.

The government is currently struggling in its efforts to introduce a system to allow produce computerised patient records.

However, the government's technology minister, Lord Sainsbury, said: "the UK Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury said:

"The eDiamond programme, part of the UK's 118 million eScience initiative, will improve the detection of breast cancer and increase the efficiency of its subsequent treatment.

"The UK government recognises the importance of projects such as this and we have recently increased our investment in science."

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27 Sep 02 | Health
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