Cancer: AI can make up for lack of doctors, says expert

Author: ET Healthworld l January 5, 2020 l Image Source: ET Healthworld
Using artificial intelligence for diagnosis and telemedicine services for treatment along with Ayushman Bharath programme will improve cancer diagnosis and treatment outcomes in India, which is reeling under a shortage of doctors, said World Health Organisation chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.
Over the past three days, experts have been discussing how artificial intelligence is proving to be more effective in spotting breast cancer from mammograms than expert radiologists. AI outperformed specialists by detecting cancers that radiologists missed in the images and also junked features they falsely flagged as possible tumours.

“If AI can make breast screening more effective and ease the burden on health services where radiologists are in short supply, it will help systems diagnose women in early stages of the disease and improve treatment,” she said, delivering the Dr S Krishnamurthi Centenary Memorial Oration on ‘Cancer in India: Challenges and Opportunities.’ The oration was organised by the Cancer Institute, Adyar.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women after cervical cancer. The incidence of breast cancer is increasing, particularly among women in urban areas of Tamil Nadu. “In the rural areas, screening of cervical cancer has substantially improved with health workers screening women with simple tests using acetic acid. Besides radiology, state can use tele-pathology for confirmation as well,” she told a hall filled with doctors, medical students and social workers.
Further, if single dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine proves to be as good as two or three injections at preventing cervical cancer in the ongoing research, it may make the World Health Organization’s goal of eliminating cervical cancer easier, she said. The vaccine is now given in at least two doses, but a single dose vaccine will make it easier for countries like India.

While an Indian pharamaceutical company is in the final stages of clinically testing a HPV vaccine, research programmes in India should focus on better collection of data through cancer registries across the country and interpretation of data for stronger policies, she said. For instance, effective policies to bring down tobacco use can bring down incidence of cancer substantially. Now, tobacco use is considered the leading risk factor for cancers in India, besides dietary factors, alcohol, air pollution and obesity. “Though we have a robust cancer registry, there is no data coming from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” said.

She further added that the Centre’s promise to invest more money in research should be directed to understand the genetic and environmental determinants of cancer.