Humans miss robot scanners that can detect bowel cancer: Scientists hope integrating AI tech into existing colonoscopy equipment could help save more lives
Artificial intelligence may be more effective than the human eye alone at spotting early signs of bowel cancer.
A new UK trial investigates whether adding artificial intelligence technology – which uses computer algorithms to scan and read images – to standard colonoscopy exams improves the accuracy of these scans.
Over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year and 16,000 die from it, making it the second leading cause of cancer death.
Colonoscopies are the “gold standard” method for diagnosing the disease. This is where the large intestine is examined using a camera attached to a thin, flexible tube.
Artificial intelligence could be better than the human eye alone at detecting early signs of bowel cancer
The camera relays live images from inside the intestine onto a screen, allowing the clinician performing the procedure to look for precancerous polyps called adenomas – small growths that can be found on the wall of the intestine. Bowel cancer is thought to develop from these polyps and, if found, they can be removed during the procedure.
However, although colonoscopies are extremely effective, three in 100 exams miss cancer or a polyp which may be small, flat or hidden in the folds of the intestine but which becomes cancer, according to the NHS.
Scientists hope that integrating AI technology (which not only reads scans but also learns as it goes) into existing colonoscopy equipment could help save more lives by increasing the accuracy of the 45-minute procedure, so that more cancers are detected at an early stage. when they are easier to deal with.
In an attempt to locate these hard-to-find abnormalities, US researchers have developed an AI box called GI Genius that connects to colonoscopy equipment and analyzes video footage in real time.
Colonoscopies are the “gold standard” method for diagnosing the disease. This is where the large intestine is examined using a camera attached to a thin, flexible tube [File photo]
If it spots anything unusual, the device creates a green box on the screen indicating a specific section of the intestinal lining that requires further inspection and issues an alert. The doctor performing the analysis will then decide whether to investigate further.
The first UK trial to test the AI device is halfway through screening around 2,000 NHS patients.
Patients enrolled in the trial had previously had a colonoscopy or experienced symptoms such as blood in their stools or significant changes in their bowel habits, which they reported to their GP; or have taken part in the NHS Bowel Screening Program (home test kit sent to adults aged 60 to 74 in England, and from 50 in Scotland).
Half of the people in the trial will undergo a standard colonoscopy, the other half with the AI device.
Nine hospitals across England are taking part in the Colo-Detect trial, primarily in the North East, with the study being led by the University of Newcastle and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.
The trial, funded by US medical device company Medtronic, which designed the device, is due to end in April (researchers will assess both the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the technology).
Results from the device’s first US trial, published in the American Journal Gastroenterology last year, showed a 50% reduction in missed polyps when AI technology was used compared to standard colonoscopy.
Commenting on the new trial, Dr Duncan Gilbert, consultant clinical oncologist in lower gastrointestinal cancers at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Colourectal cancer remains a major public health challenge for the UK. Worryingly, it is also becoming more common in younger patients.
“Colonoscopy screening to find and remove polyps and early cancers has been shown to save lives and anything that improves the efficiency of colonoscopy is welcome.
“Testing new technologies in well-run clinical trials like this is exactly what we need to do and is an example of how NHS clinical research is leading the world.”