Health Watch: Using AI to stop cancer in its tracks

Lung and pancreatic cancers are very often difficult to treat, especially when cancer has spread to other organs. Today, the five- year survival rate for lung cancer that has spread is five percent. For pancreatic cancer, it's three percent. Now a group of researchers has developed a system to use computers to increase a patient's odds.

One of the biggest challenges in cancer treatment is catching it at an early stage before it has spread.

"Something around 30 to 40 percent of cancers is missed during the early stages of screening," said Naji Khosravan, a Ph.D. Candidate at the Center for Research in Computer Vision (CRCV), University of Central Florida.

But doctors may soon have a new tool to help in the fight against cancer. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed an artificial intelligence system to detect tiny specks of lung cancer in CT scans.

Ulas Bagci, Ph.D., Professor of Computer Science at the Center for Research in Computer Vision at UCF said, "The radiologists tend to miss them because they look like the normal tissue and it is very natural to miss those tumors."

The researchers train the system to look for patterns in the scan to find tiny tumors. Then the system analyzes it and determines whether the tumor is cancerous. It's 95 percent accurate, compared to 65 percent when done by a human.

"So we are actually helping them to improve their screening strategies and especially for very small nodules," said Bagci.

The success has led them to a partnership with the Mayo Clinic in Florida to develop a similar system to spot premalignant cysts in the pancreas that can lead to pancreatic cancer.

"With pancreatic cancers, over half of patients are not diagnosed until a very late stage," said Rodney LaLonde, a PhD Student at the University of Central Florida.

"So our idea is to find the cyst, pancreatic cyst before they turn into cancer. It is going to improve the life span of people because you are capturing the lung cancer or pancreatic cancer at the early phrase," said Bagci.

And improving the survival rates of patients.

The researchers have already filed for a patent for the AI system to detect pancreatic cysts. Now they are looking to get FDA approval for clinical use for both the lung and pancreatic cancer systems so doctors can start using them in hospital settings.
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