An AI program developed in Australia could diagnose prostate cancer early

Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer and a leading cause of death by cancer in Australian men. Early detection is key to successful treatment but men often dodge the doctor, avoiding diagnosis tests until it’s too late.

Now an artificial intelligence (AI) program developed at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia could catch the disease earlier, allowing for incidental detection through routine computed tomography (CT) scans. The tech, developed in collaboration with clinicians at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, works by analysing CT scans for tell-tale signs of prostate cancer, something even a well-trained human eye struggles to do.

CT imaging is not suitable for regular cancer screening because of the high radiation doses involved, but the AI solution could be used to run a cancer check whenever men have their abdomen or pelvis scanned for other issues.

RMIT’s Dr Ruwan Tennakoon said CT scans were great for detecting bone and joint problems but even radiologists struggled to spot prostate cancers on the images. “We’ve trained our software to see what the human eye can’t, with the aim of spotting prostate cancer through incidental detection,” he 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.”

Prostate cancer is slow growing and is usually detected incidentally, so can go undiagnosed for years. In 2020, it was responsible for an estimated 12% of male cancer deaths in Australia.

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