A group of researchers at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere have developed a new artificial intelligence model that could provide doctors with important information to help them make prognoses and decide on treatments for patients with colorectal cancer.
This is the second deadliest cancer worldwide, claiming the lives of around one million people each year.
The new tool can predict how aggressive a colorectal tumor is, how likely the patient is to survive with and without disease recurrence, and what the optimal therapy might be for them.
It does this by looking at images of tumor samples, microscopic depictions of cancer cells.
Colorectal cancer is a difficult disease to manage, as it can behave differently even among people with similar disease profiles who receive the same treatment.
Having a tool that answers such questions could help clinicians and patients navigate this disease, which can be devastating, particularly for those who are affected at a young age.
While the researchers caution that the tool is meant to enhance, not replace, human expertise, they believe that it could revolutionize the way that doctors treat colorectal cancer.
The new tool, called MOMA (Multi-omics Multi-cohort Assessment), goes beyond many current AI tools, which primarily perform tasks that replicate or optimize human expertise.
The new tool detects and interprets visual patterns on microscopy images that are indiscernible to the human eye.
The model was trained on information obtained from nearly 2,000 patients with colorectal cancer from diverse national patient cohorts that together include more than 450,000 participants.
During the training phase, the researchers fed the model information about the patients’ age, sex, cancer stage, and outcomes.
They also gave it information about the tumors’ genomic, epigenetic, protein, and metabolic profiles.
Then the researchers showed the model pathology images of tumor samples and asked it to look for visual markers related to tumor types, genetic mutations, epigenetic alterations, disease progression, and patient survival.
The researchers then tested how the model might perform in “the real world” by feeding it a set of images it had not seen before of tumor samples from different patients.
They compared its performance with the actual patient outcomes and other available clinical information.
The model accurately predicted the patients’ overall survival following diagnosis, as well as how many of those years would be cancer-free.
The tool also accurately predicted how an individual patient might respond to different therapies, based on whether the patient’s tumor harbored specific genetic mutations that rendered the cancer more or less prone to progression or spread.
In both of those areas, the tool outperformed human pathologists as well as current AI models.
The researchers said the model will undergo periodic upgrading as science evolves and new data emerge.
The researchers said that before deploying the model for use in clinics and hospitals, it should be tested in a prospective, randomized trial that assesses the tool’s performance in actual patients over time after initial diagnosis.
How to prevent colon cancer
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer worldwide, and early detection and prevention can be lifesaving. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of developing colon cancer:
Get screened regularly: Screening for colon cancer is recommended for everyone starting at age 50 or earlier if you have a family history of the disease. Various screening options are available, such as a colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, and stool DNA test.
Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases the risk of colon cancer, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Avoid processed and red meats, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated and trans fats.
Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol in excess can increase the risk of colon cancer, so it’s important to limit consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Don’t smoke: Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of colon cancer and other types of cancer, so quitting smoking is essential to reducing your risk.
Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Get enough vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for overall health and may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Get enough vitamin D by spending time in the sun or taking supplements as recommended by your healthcare provider.
If you care about cancer, please read studies about a safer, more effective cancer therapy, and vitamin D supplements could strongly reduce cancer death.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease and cancer, and results showing NanoKnife can use electricity to kill prostate cancer.
The study was conducted by Pei-Chen Tsai et al and published in Nature Communications.
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