Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer, taking more than 1.8 million lives per year – that’s more than breast cancer, prostate and colorectal cancer combined. Like other cancers, it can go undetected in its early stages as there are virtually no signs and symptoms.
Unfortunately, the majority of cancers aren’t caught until later stages, when interventions are more invasive and tend to be less successful. There could, however, be a glimmer of hope on the horizon and it’s AI we will have to thank for it.
A US study conducted by Google and researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois suggests that AI is better than specialist doctors at diagnosing lung cancer.
The new AI-based tool by Google was used in a study to see if the analysis of scans could be more accurate and more accessible than current screening protocols.
The typical screening process for lung cancer is demanding, radiologists have to analyse hundreds of images from a single CT scan. With this new AI model, Google says it can generate an overall lung cancer malignancy prediction and identify subtle malignant tissue, or lung nodules, which are often difficult to see.
The first step in the study was to train the computer software with 42,290 CT lung scans from nearly 15,000 patients. The AI was not told what to look for, just which patients went on to being diagnosed with cancer and which did not.
The AI-based tool was then compared against a team of six board-certified radiologists. In this preliminary study, Google’s AI detected 5% more cancer cases than the radiologists, while also reducing false-positive (people falsely diagnosed with cancer) exams by over 11%.
Dr Mozziyar Etemadi, from Northwestern University, told the BBC that AI and doctors working side by side would be even more effective and that AI had a ‘huge’ role to play in the future of medicine.
The current software is not yet ready for clinical use, but Google says the initial results are encouraging.