YOUR HEALTH: Using Artificial Intelligence to better detect cancer

IRVINE, California –  There are more than a million colon cancer survivors in the United States and that number is rising because doctors are finding and removing more precancerous polyps during colonoscopies.

Every Friday, Dr. William Karnes has the help of an artificial intelligence system for colonoscopies at UC-Irvine.   He's helping develop the system, which operates similarly to facial recognition.

"We painstakingly drew little boxes around all those polyps on tens of thousands of images, and then trained the AI, tested the ai on its ability on a new set of images to find those polyps," said Dr. Karnes, a gastroenterologist at UCI Health.

Dr. Karnes says colonoscopists should find polyps in half of patients over 50, but sometimes that rate is as low as ten percent.

"It's that gap between the prevalence of polyps and our ability to find them which is responsible for interval colon cancers. These are cancers we get despite being up to date with colonoscopy."

He says missed polyps result in seven percent of colon cancers.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   The artificial intelligence colonoscopy, developed by doctors at the University of California Irvine (UCI), was designed to spot polyps that may be hard for the doctors themselves to catch the first time around.   The system uses complicated algorithms and analyzes more than 98 images per second as it searches for not only just polyps but even possible tissue that could become one.   The program shows its results to the doctors in real time during the colonoscopy procedure.   It may actually help identify those that they would otherwise miss, sometimes these polyps found with AI may not have been detected or show up during traditional procedures for up to five more years.   This could mean the difference between colon cancer prevention and colon cancer treatment.

John Gifford volunteered to get an AI assisted colonoscopy.   It found two precancerous polyps that were removed.

"They were able to find something in its very formative stage, which was a relief because they found that, which means that they didn't find anything else," said Gifford.

Dr. Karnes says with the AI overlay, expert colonoscopists found 20% more polyps.   He hopes upcoming clinical trials have similar results.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.