Why AI is a Girl’s Breast Friend

Can AI Help Catch Breast Cancer? The Surprising Answer.


October is almost upon us! Every year, we see the famous pink ribbons that mean another Breast Cancer Awareness Month has arrived. Unfortunately, even with all the progress that’s been made, women are still being diagnosed with and dying of breast cancer in large numbers. The World Health Organization reported that as recently as 2020, over 2 million people received a breast cancer diagnosis and 685,000 succumbed to breast cancer. Those who survive breast cancer are lucky, but they are also more likely to face a range of health challenges even after they’ve been treated — including lymphedema and pelvic floor issues. For all women affected by breast cancer, we owe it to them to do everything to help them survive and thrive.  


So, what is AI, anyway?


AI, or Artificial Intelligence, utilizes computers and machines to mimic human performance, and that includes the performance of doctors!  AI can check you for skin cancer, discover if you have COVID-19 by hearing you cough, and interpret mammograms. Pretty amazing, right?


Why doctors need help from AI


Although we don’t like to think about it, a radiologist could possibly miss breast cancer while reading a mammography. Did you know, in fact, The National Cancer Institute believes that approximately 20 percent of breast cancers may remain undiagnosed after mammograms? And as we all know, early detection and treatment for breast cancer can make all the difference. 


AI has the potential to help mammography become a more powerful breast cancer detection tool, allowing it to discover 20% more breast cancers, according to the initial results of a Swedish study published in August of this year. The doctors in the study also spent 44% less time looking at mammograms, thanks to AI. Less time with images equals more available time for patients, and any patient who has been rushed by a stressed doctor can see the potential benefits of that!   


What AI means for the future of breast cancer screening


This doesn’t mean AI will or should put doctors out of business. Computer scientist Peter Kecskemethy, co-founder of Kheiron Medical Technologies, told The New York Times, “An AI-plus-doctor should replace [a] doctor alone, but an AI should not replace the doctor.” Humans are still vital to providing healthcare—that’s not changing any time soon! But powerful tools can make us more powerful healthcare providers. In the same way physical therapists rely on tools like foam rollers and dilators to supplement care, these radiologists may some day rely on AI.


AI may not be used at your next mammography, but it might eventually. I look forward to reading more about AI’s potential in all aspects of healthcare, as I have a feeling we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg.   











Could a Simple Swab Test Predict Pelvic Organ Prolapse?


Pelvic organ prolapse is one of many pelvic floor disorders we are able to treat here at Revitalize Physical Therapy. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised! It doesn’t get the coverage it should. Data on how many women are dealing with it also appears to vary. It affects approximately 3% of women in America, according to WebMD; however, the University of Chicago Medical Center says that as many as a third of women can have it by age 80. No small amount!


Pelvic organ prolapse is the medical term for what happens when organs, such as the bladder, small intestine, rectum, vagina or uterus, fall either into or out of the vaginal canal or the anus. This can happen due to issues, including pregnancy, delivery, pelvic organ cancers, and constipation. Any woman at any age can be affected potentially, but it’s most prevalent in midlife and among younger senior citizens.


Pelvic organ prolapse goes by different names, so you may hear your medical provider use a word like rectocele for a prolapse of the rectum, or cyctocele, when the bladder moves into the vagina. (Cyctocele is in fact the most common form of pelvic organ prolapse.) Pelvic organ prolapse can result in urinary frequency, incomplete emptying of the rectum, or painful sex, to name a few.  


So now that you’ve heard about pelvic organ prolapse, your next question might be: How can I avoid it? Fair enough! Some risk factors can be averted and others can’t. You can’t help things like, say, a history of this in your family or having had a baby, but you can make sure you are eating sufficient fiber (25-30 grams/day), and drinking enough water (8 cups/day) to try to avoid constipation. Furthermore, both urination and defecation should be completely passive processes. No straining is required, and if you must strain or push excessively to pass bowel movements, speak to your friendly neighborhood pelvic floor PT! Finally, don’t start smoking or give it up if you are already in the habit (which is a good idea anyway).


If you suspect that you have pelvic organ prolapse, the issue may be diagnosed by an ultrasound of your pelvis or other tests involving the bladder or urination. Physical therapy, a pessary and, when all else fails, surgery are used to treat pelvic organ prolapse. (It is worth noting, though, that surgery has a high chance of not working.)


Happily, science may be coming along to help further: Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found a potentially noninvasive way to screen for pelvic organ prolapse. They have discovered a vaginal swab test that may identify women who are prone to developing pelvic organ prolapse. The study appears in a medical journal called Aging Medicine. This test found that certain proteins were higher in the vaginal secretions of postmenopausal women who were diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse. 


If we know which women are likely to have pelvic organ prolapse, a doctor or pelvic floor therapist can initiate a preventative plan rather than one that treats them when they already are showing symptoms. When it comes to prophylactic treatment, I like to say that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure!


The article doesn’t specify when the swab test will be available, but I hope it will come and soon. And you can rest assured that as soon as I have any more updates, I will keep you posted, dear readers. In closing, the sooner we know what’s going on with our pelvic floor health, the better.