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18 October 2005 PR 05/99

Breast cancer screening takes another step forward thanks to Loughborough University

A unique scheme developed by a Loughborough University scientist to help radiologists improve their detection of breast cancer has taken another step forward.

Professor Alastair Gale set up the Personal Performance in Mammographic Screening system (PERFORMS) in the early 1990s whilst at Nottingham University, working alongside the NHS Breast Screening Programme. PERFORMS is a self-assessment scheme for individuals involved in interpreting breast screening mammograms (X-rays of the breast) and assists them in topping up and improving their breast cancer detection skills. It is the only system of its kind in the world and helps UK breast screeners detect very early signs of cancer – thereby helping to save hundreds of women’s lives each year.

Professor Gale and his team, who are now based at Loughborough University’s Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (ESRI), collect some of the most challenging breast X-rays from across the country which are then sent out to radiologists twice a year. The PERFORMS scheme enables those carrying out screening to gain more detailed experience of detecting very early signs of breast cancer as well as difficult cancer appearances. They then receive detailed feedback about how they perform, which enables them to see what their strengths are.

The data collected from the PERFORMS system is used by Professor Gale and his researchers to study the behaviour of film readers so as to develop improved training for radiologists.
Previously the radiologists taking part in the scheme would be sent a pack that included copies of X-ray films and a computerised bar-coded self-assessment form and scanning device. The candidate would then spend on average two hours reading the films and recording their responses on the specially designed form and software. Now Professor Gale has developed a more high-tech system, which makes it easier and quicker for the radiologists to use.

Professor Gale explains: “The previous system, although effective, was quite complicated and involved participants making their decisions from the X-rays and then inputting this into a computer using a barcode system. An answer would be selected from the self-assessment sheet and the corresponding barcode would be scanned in.

“Now we are able to send out fully computerised packs where as well as having the actual X-rays, the mammograms can also be displayed on the tablet computer screen. Simply by touching the screen the radiologists can make their decisions about a case, we are able to record more complex information and the data they give is stored for later analysis and subsequent feedback to the participants.”

Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Breast Screening Programme, added: “PERFORMS has already proved effective in supporting radiologists working within the breast screening programme refine their interpretation skills. It is encouraging to see the system has developed further, bringing additional benefits to staff and making it easier for them to access world class professional support.”


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Notes to editors

  1. Professor Alastair Gale is head of Loughborough University’s new Applied Vision Research Centre (AVRC), which currently has around 12 researchers.
  2. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities. The National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students, and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough's income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded four Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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