British scientists invent an artificial eye that can detect early esophageal cancer which affects 9,000 Britons a year and many die within 12 months
- Doctors use the pair of artificial eyes to check for pre-cancerous cells
- The flexible tube is inserted while the doctor performs an endoscopy on the patient
- One in five esophageal cancers are missed at an early stage by doctors
- Symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, and acid reflux
Artificial intelligence can improve the chances of detecting early warning signs of oesophageal cancer, a pioneering NHS program has shown.
The computer technology works by analyzing images taken during a procedure known as endoscopy, when a tiny camera at the end of a flexible tube is placed down the throat – acting as “a pair of extra eyes” to help doctors identify precancerous lesions. cells in the esophagus.
Currently, one in five cases are missed by doctors during regular endoscopy – with sometimes serious consequences. But new trial results from the artificial intelligence software show it can accurately detect signs of pre-cancer during endoscopies in 92% of patients.
Currently, one in five cases are missed by doctors during regular endoscopy – with sometimes serious consequences. But new trial results from the artificial intelligence software show it can accurately detect signs of pre-cancer during endoscopies in 92% of patients
Around 9,000 Britons are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year. Patients with the most common type – adenocarcinoma – live on average just one year after diagnosis, making it one of the deadliest forms of the disease
Professor Rehan Haidry, a consultant endoscopist at University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, who is offering the procedure, said: ‘If we catch esophageal cancer early we can treat it with minimally invasive surgery and patients don’t need surgery or cycles of chemo and radiation.’
Around 9,000 Britons are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year. Patients with the most common type – adenocarcinoma – live on average just one year after diagnosis, making it one of the deadliest forms of the disease.
Common symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, and acid reflux. In up to 13% of patients, the disease is preceded by a condition called Barrett’s esophagus – when the cells that line the esophagus change and mutate. Acid reflux is thought to be the main cause of this, as stomach acid that rises up the esophagus damages these cells. One in ten patients with acid reflux develop Barrett’s disease.
In about one in 100 cases each year, cell changes can become precancerous – a condition called dysplasia – and later turn into full-blown cancer.
Precancerous cells can be surgically removed during the same endoscopic procedure, using a fine wire passed down the throat to scrape off the mutated cells. Studies show that the procedure is very effective with 95 percent of patients still cancer-free after ten years.
For full-blown esophageal cancer, treatment involves removing part of the esophagus. During the operation, incisions are made in the patient’s neck, stomach or abdomen to remove part or all of the esophagus and replace it with a section of the stomach or intestine. But for more than half of these patients, the cancer comes back within two to three years.
Advanced disease is treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This may be followed by immunotherapy if other treatments stop working.
However, at this stage the cancer is usually incurable – and only 15% of patients survive for five years or more.
The artificial intelligence software, called CADU, increases the likelihood of early detection of esophageal cancer by highlighting areas of concern in the patient’s throat invisible to the naked eye. As the doctor thrusts a camera down the patient’s throat, the software analyzes the images the doctor sees in real time and produces warnings that display on the screen, directing the surgeon to potentially abnormal cells.
The technology is approved by UK health authorities and has been in use at UCH London for a year. Experts believe it will be reviewed for wider use in NHS hospitals over the next year.
Prof Haidry says: ‘A man in his 60s recently arrived with symptoms of Barrett’s oesophagus. Looking at the screen during the endoscopy, I couldn’t see any signs of pre-cancer. But the AI system picked it up right away and highlighted the area.
“After scraping the cells and sending them to the lab, the results came back within a week – and the computer was right. The cells were precancerous.
Hopefully the patient is no longer at risk of developing cancer, and Prof Haidry says: ‘Compare this to treating actual esophageal cancer – patients undergo a massive operation to remove part of the esophagus.
“It involves spending weeks in hospital and it can take up to six months to recover.
“With the AI procedure, the risk involved is minimal and patients can go home the next day.”
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