Lung and pancreatic cancers are very often difficult to treat, especially when the cancer has spread to other organs. Today, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer that has spread is 5%. For pancreatic cancer, it's 3%. Now a group of researchers have developed a system to use computers to increase a patient's odds.
One of the biggest challenges in cancer treatment is catching it at an early stage before it has spread.
"Something around 30% to 40% of cancers is missed during the early stages of screening," said Naji Khosravan, a PhD Candidate at the Center for Research in Computer Vision (CRCV), University of Central Florida.
But doctors may soon have a new tool to help in the fight against cancer. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed an artificial intelligence system to detect tiny specks of lung cancer in CT scans.
Ulas Bagci, PhD, Professor of Computer Science, Center for Research in Computer Vision at UCF said, "The radiologists tend to miss them because they look like the normal tissue and it is very natural to miss those tumors."
The researchers train the system to look for patterns in the scan to find tiny tumors. Then the system analyzes it and determines whether the tumor is cancerous. It's 95% accurate, compared to 65% when done by a human.
"So we are actually helping them to improve their screening strategies and especially for very small nodules," said Bagci.
The success has led them to a partnership with the Mayo Clinic in Florida to develop a similar system to spot pre-malignant cysts in the pancreas that can lead to pancreatic cancer.
"With pancreatic cancer, over half of patients are not diagnosed until a very late stage," said Rodney LaLonde, a PhD Student at the University of Central Florida.
"So our idea is to find the cyst, the pancreatic cyst before they turn into cancer. It is going to improve the life span of people because you are capturing the lung cancer or pancreatic cancer at the early phrase," said Bagci.
The goal is to improve the survival rates of patients. The researchers have already filed for a patent for the AI system to detect pancreatic cysts. Now they are looking to get FDA approval for clinical use for both the lung and pancreatic cancer systems so doctors can start using them in hospital settings.