Revolutionizing Colorectal Cancer Screening: AI-Assisted Colonoscopy

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By Anish A. Sheth, MD  

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming life as we know it.

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And in fact, when it comes to colon cancer, AI is helping save lives. 

Doctors at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center’s (PMC) Center for Digestive Health are using AI-assisted technology to help detect hard-to-find precancerous polyps during screening colonoscopy.

About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, which includes colon and rectal cancers, is one of the most common types of cancer — and one of the most preventable — in the United States.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 153,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in the United States this year, and nearly 53,000 people will die from the disease.

Further, rates of colorectal cancer are disproportionately increasing among people under age 55. 

Since the mid-1990s, the rate of adults under age 55 diagnosed with colorectal cancer, has increased approximately 2% annually, according to the American Cancer Society, doubling over the past two decades.

Moreover, the majority of cases diagnosed in younger people are advanced, making them more difficult to treat.

Researchers continue to study the cause of the rapid increase in colorectal cancers among younger adults. However, certain risk factors likely contribute to cases among adults of all ages. They include:

  • History. A person is more likely to develop colorectal cancer if one or more family members have had the disease. Certain genetic conditions, a history of polyps in the colon or rectum, a past colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, also increases risk.
  • Lifestyle. A diet that is high in red and processed meats and/or low in fiber, as well as smoking, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity increases the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. 

Early Detection is Key

Most colorectal cancers start out as polyps or growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These polyps — medically termed adenomas — usually don’t cause symptoms, but some can change into cancer over time.

That’s why early detection is key.

When polyps are caught early, they can be removed before they turn cancerous. And if a polyp is cancerous, it can often be treated and cured with surgery if detected early.

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. Those with a family history of the disease should begin screening earlier in consult with their physician.

Moreover, if symptoms do occur, you should see your doctor right away. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in bowel habits.
  • Blood in stool.
  • Abdominal pain and cramping.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

A New Era

Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for the detection and prevention of colon cancer, and the recent integration of AI in colonoscopy has ushered in a new era.

At PMC’s Center for Digestive Health, gastroenterologists use GI Genius, an FDA approved system with AI, for screening and surveillance colonoscopy.

While the physician views real-time images of the colon, the system — informed by algorithms — aids detection by highlighting a potential polyp, calling attention to small polyps and polyps that are flat.

While AI-assisted colonoscopy is state-of-the-art technology, it cannot replace the skill and judgment of a well-trained clinician. The tool is designed to aid medical professionals and support their decision-making.

Clinical studies with the GI Genius platform have revealed a roughly 13% increase in polyp detection using AI-assisted colonoscopy versus standard colonoscopy.

Reduce Your Risk

As with all cancers, early detection of colorectal cancers usually results in better outcomes. That is why it is important to follow through on regular screenings and contact your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.

Lifestyle habits such as eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco, can also reduce the risk of developing colorectal and other cancers, and have the added benefit of improving your overall health. 

The Direct Access Colonoscopy Program at PMC’s Center for Digestive Health helps speed the scheduling of routine screening colonoscopies for patients who meet certain criteria.

To learn more about the Direct Access Colonoscopy Program, call (609) 853-6390.

To find a gastroenterologist affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health call 1 (888) 742-7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.

Anish Sheth, MD., is board certified in gastroenterology. He is Chief of Gastroenterology and Co-Medical Director of the Center for Digestive Health at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

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