Prostate cancer: Aussie researchers develop program for early detection

Jul 08, 2021
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in Australian men. Source: Getty

Australian researchers have developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) program that could help diagnose prostate cancer early, giving men the ability to get on top of treatment plans before symptoms worsen.

In Australia, prostate cancer kills more people than breast cancer. According to Cancer Council Australia, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in Australian men (after lung cancer), and the third most common cause of cancer death (after lung and bowel cancer).

When it comes to beating prostate cancer, early detection is key. Now, an AI program developed at RMIT University in Melbourne could help catch the disease earlier. The tech, developed in collaboration with clinicians at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, works by analysing CT scans for tell-tale signs of prostate cancer, something even a well-trained human eye struggles to do.

“We’ve trained our software to see what the human eye can’t, with the aim of spotting prostate cancer through incidental detection,” RMIT’s Dr Ruwan Tennakoon said. “It’s like training a sniffer dog. We can teach the AI to see things that we can’t with our own eyes, in the same way a dog can smell things human noses can’t.”

For the study, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, researchers from RMIT and St Vincent’s Hospital studied CT scans of asymptomatic patients with and without prostate cancer.

The team trained the AI software to look for features of disease in a variety of scans and where exactly to look for them. The researchers found the AI performed better than radiologists who viewed the same images, detecting cancerous growths in just seconds. What’s more, the AI improved with each scan, learning and adapting to read images from different machines to spot even the smallest irregularities.

Professor John Thangarajah, head of AI at RMIT, said the new technology was the step in the right direction when it came to detecting prostate cancer early. “Our health sector needs smarter solutions and AI can help, but we’re only scratching the surface,” Thangarajah said. “There’s a lot of good that artificial intelligence can bring to the world, which is our focus at RMIT, and this study forms a big part of that.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mark Page, head of CT in diagnostic imaging at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, agreed, saying early intervention for prostate cancer was key to a better health outcome. “Australia doesn’t have a screening program for prostate cancer but, armed with this technology, we hope to catch cases early in patients who are scanned for other reasons,” he said. “For example, emergency patients who have CT scans could be simultaneously screened for prostate cancer.

“If we can detect it earlier and refer them to specialist care faster, this could make a significant difference to their prognosis.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

What are your thoughts on this new development? Have you or someone you know had prostate cancer?

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