Artificial intelligence could detect the start of cervical cancer in women better than trained doctors, a new study claims.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Global Good developed a computer algorithm that can identify precancerous changes in a woman’s cervix up to 1.3 times better than standard tests.
Previous tests involved swabbing the cervix with a vinegar solution, but the solution wasn’t able to distinguish between inflammation, infection and precancer.
The team says the AI model is faster, cheaper and more accurate than current measures, and could expand to countries that have limited access to advanced screening methods.
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lowermost part of the uterus.
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 13,000 US women will develop cervical cancer in 2019, which will lead to more than 4,200 deaths.
It is most often diagnosed between ages 35 and 44, but a recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that less than two-thirds of women ages 30 to 65 were not up date with the cervical cancer screenings.
These screenings detect precancerous changes in the cervix before they develop into disease.
Such changes include normal glandular cells transforming into squamous cells, which are more sensitive to the effect of the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Another cancer precursor is called adenocarcinoma in situ, which is when abnormal cells are found in the glandular tissue that lines the uterus and cervix.
The current standard for screenings, particularly in areas with few resources, is called visual inspection with acetic acid.
‘The cervix is swabbed with a weakened vinegar solution,’ Jennifer Loukissas, chief of communications in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at NCI, told DailyMail.com.
‘The solution turns HPV white and any cellular changes white while pink is normal. But white can be infection, inflammation or precancer. That’s why it’s so difficult to interpret with the human eye.’
A 2003 study found the test was about 80 percent accurate in correctly identifying those with the disease as positive.
To train the algorithm, the team recruited more than 9,400 women from Costa Rica between ages 18 and 94 years.
More than 60,000 images were taken during cervical cancer screenings between 1993 and 2000 and the woman were monitored over an 18-year period.