One of the devastating aspects of cancer is that the disease often surprises people, not just the patients, but also their friends and loved ones.
Three of the most devastating words to hear together are: “You have cancer.” In many cases, patients are told that there are not many treatment options available either.
What if there was a way to predict if someone will get cancer later in life? This kind of knowledge could prepare people for treatment, inspire them to get regular screenings, and lead to preventative lifestyle changes.
This future is possible through artificial intelligence, and doctors at Harvard Medical School are trying to create an AI capable of predicting cancer risk in people. If this technology comes to fruition, it could go a long way in reducing cancer deaths and cancer rates, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Explaining ‘Sybil’: Harvard University’s AI to predict cancer
The Harvard researchers focused on lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and one of the most common types of cancer among people. There are a few causes, including smoking tobacco cigarettes, genetics, and asbestos exposure.
Medical experts recommend that people ages 50 to 80 get low-dose chest computed tomography (LDCT) tests, especially if they have a history of smoking or a history of lung cancer in their family.
Lung cancer screening with LDCT has reduced lung cancer death rates by 24%, according to Harvard University, but has not reduced the risk for non-smokers.
Harvard Medical School in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created Sybilartificial intelligence, as a way to better predict and diagnose lung cancer in this population.
“Lung cancer rates continue to rise among people who have never smoked or have not smoked in years, suggesting that there are many risk factors that contribute to lung cancer risk, some of which are currently unknown.” said corresponding author Lecia Sequist, the Harvard Medical School Landry Family Professor of Medicine in the field of medical oncology at Mass General.
Sybil can predict the risk of lung cancer in people up to six years before the cancer develops.
Sybil test as a lung cancer AI
The team tested Sybil in three studies, using scans of more than 6,000 people, 8,821 scans from Massachusetts General Hospital and 12,280 scans from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan, China.
The last set included a variety of stories from smokers, including those who had never smoked. The measurement distinguished between diseased and normal samples. On all three tests, Sybil scored 0.92 out of 1.0, 0.86, and 0.94 for one-year risk of lung cancer. Sybil predicted six-year lung cancer risk with an accuracy of 0.75, 0.81, and 0.8.
“Sybil can look at an image and predict a patient’s risk of developing lung cancer within six years,” said co-author and Jameel Clinic faculty leader Regina Barzilay, a fellow at the Koch Institute for Integrative Research at the Cancer. “I am excited about the translational efforts led by the MGH team that aim to change outcomes for patients who would otherwise develop advanced disease.”
What does this mean for mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose and is equally difficult to predict. However, there are risk factors, the main one being exposure to asbestos. Fortunately, most people exposed to asbestos do not develop mesothelioma. However, this means that it is difficult to predict who will get this rare and deadly cancer.
Sybil or artificial intelligence technology like it may be able to look at scans and predict the onset of mesothelioma cancer years before it actually starts to spread. This kind of knowledge can help patients start treatment early and beat mesothelioma before it spreads to the lungs or other organs.
If you want more news about mesothelioma and lung cancer, or cancer in general, sign up for the monthly mesothelioma e-newsletter. This Mesothelioma Guide offer sends news about mesothelioma and asbestos cancers directly to your email every month.
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