AI identifies early signs of prostate cancer from CT scans

An AI program developed at RMIT University in Melbourne could help identify early signs of prostate cancer by analysing CT scans. 

prostate cancer
(L-R) Associate Professor Peter Brotchie (St Vincent’s), Dr Ruwan Tennakoon (RMIT), Professor John Thangarajah (RMIT), Dr Mark Page (St Vincent’s). Image: St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

CT imaging is not suitable for regular cancer screening because of the high radiation doses involved, but RMIT believe the AI solution – developed in collaboration with clinicians at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne – could be used to run a cancer check whenever men have their abdomen or pelvis scanned for other issues. The research is detailed in Scientific Reports.

RMIT’s Dr Ruwan Tennakoon said CT scans were good for detecting bone and joint problems but radiologists struggled to spot prostate cancers on the images.

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“We’ve trained our software to see what the human eye can’t, with the aim of spotting prostate cancer through incidental detection,” he said in a statement.

“It’s like training a sniffer dog – we can teach the AI to see things that we can’t with our own eyes, in the same way a dog can smell things human noses can’t.”

For the study, the researchers from studied CT scans of asymptomatic patients, with and without prostate cancer.

The team trained the AI software to look for features of disease in a variety of scans and where exactly to look for them, avoiding the need to manually crop the images.

The AI is said to have performed better than radiologists who viewed the same images, detecting cancerous growths in just seconds.

The AI improved with each scan, learning and adapting to read images from different machines to spot even the smallest irregularities.

Dr Mark Page, head of CT in Diagnostic Imaging at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, said early intervention for prostate cancer was key to a better health outcome.

“Australia doesn’t have a screening program for prostate cancer but armed with this technology, we hope to catch cases early in patients who are scanned for other reasons,” he said.

“For example, emergency patients who have CT scans could be simultaneously screened for prostate cancer. If we can detect it earlier and refer them to specialist care faster, this could make a significant difference to their prognosis.”

According to RMIT, the technology can be applied at scale, potentially integrating with a variety of diagnostic imaging equipment like MRI and DEXA machines, pending further research.

The multi-disciplinary team, including researchers from RMIT’s School of Engineering and School of Computing Technologies, is looking for commercial partners to develop software to further integrate the AI technology with hospital equipment for possible clinical trials.