Google says it wants to be more than just a search engine for breast-cancer patients — a point  CFO Ruth Porat makes in a blog post in which she discusses her own struggles with the disease.

The Alphabet Inc. company is investing in women’s health by developing artificial-intelligence tools that help with diagnosis and detection. Google’s innovations apply to all types of cancer but are especially promising with breast cancer, which relies heavily on computer imaging through mammography, Porat wrote.

“I know how incredibly fortunate I am, but I also know that for far too many, a diagnosis comes too late and the best care is beyond reach,” Porat, 61, wrote in a blog post this week that discussed her two bouts with breast cancer in the early 2000s, which included multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.  

While at Google, she wrote that she’s witnessed technological breakthroughs. “Google’s research showed that the best results come when medical professionals and technology work together, rather than either working alone,” 

While the rate of breast cancer in the U.S. has fallen, it’s still is the most common cancer among women, regardless of race and ethnicity, according to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, the disease killed more than 2 million people in 2018, accounting for more than a fifth of all cancer deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

AI can improve early detection by helping doctors check mammograms, and the technology can also assist in determining how advanced and aggressive a tumor may be, Porat wrote. Currently, doctors determine the stage of the cancer — or how far it has spread — by looking at patient histories, physical examinations and images. Pathology results are examined by a human with a microscope in a “laborious and costly” process.

“Last year, Google created a deep learning algorithm that could help pathologists assess tissue and detect the spread and extent of disease better in virtually every case,” she said. “By pinpointing the location of the cancer more accurately, quickly and at a lower cost, care providers might be able to deliver better treatment for more patients.”

  • A study published in the journal “Radiology: Artificial Intelligence” earlier this year shows that AI improves “the efficiency and accuracy” of imaging technology used for breast-cancer detection. The study was led by Emily Conant from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Google teams have applied AI to a range of healthcare situations, from predicting patient outcomes through medical records to helping detect diseases lung cancer