Healthcare

Theresa May: AI is a ‘new weapon’ against cancer

PM Theresa May visits Frimley Park Hospital

Prime Minister Theresa May will use a speech today in Cheshire to highlight the potential of AI to diagnose cancer earlier.

Cancer has a higher successful treatment rate the earlier it’s diagnosed. The later the diagnosis, the greater the risk of death or long-term debilitating effects.

In her speech, Mrs May will say:

“Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.

The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly, and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease.

Achieving this mission will not only save thousands of lives, it will incubate a whole new industry around AI-in-healthcare. It will create high-skilled science jobs across the country – drawing on existing centres of excellence in places like Edinburgh, Oxford, and Leeds – and help to grow new ones.”

At least 50,000 people a year suffering from lung, prostate, ovarian, or bowel cancer will be diagnosed earlier due to AI, May will claim.

To achieve this goal, researchers will require access to large amounts of medical records to cross-reference patients’ lifestyles, genetics, and prior conditions to highlight when individuals are most at risk.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has vast amounts of data. Every time a patient visits a service anywhere in the country, a record is made.

A patient’s medical record can include:

  • treatments received or ongoing
  • information about allergies
  • current medication(s)
  • any reactions to medications in the past
  • any known long-term conditions, such as diabetes or asthma
  • medical test results such as blood tests, allergy tests, and other screenings
  • any clinically relevant lifestyle information, such as smoking, alcohol or weight
  • personal data, such as age, name, and address
  • consultation notes, which a doctor takes during an appointment
  • hospital admission records, including the reason
  • hospital discharge records, which will include the results of treatment and whether any follow-up appointments or care are required
  • X-rays
  • photographs and image slides, such as MRI scans or CT scans

How this data is shared and used to improve medical care remains a controversial topic. For example, the NHS’ sharing of data with Google-owned DeepMind has often come under scrutiny.

An independent panel last year found the deal between DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust to develop an app for diagnosing kidney disease was ‘illegal’ and did not do enough to safeguard patient data.

Theresa May’s party, the Conservatives, have also faced widespread criticism over under-funding and privatisation of the NHS — leading to increased staff pressure and longer waiting times for patients.

Two-thirds of NHS trusts reported having at least one cancer patient waiting more than six months last year, while almost seven in 10 (69%) trusts said they had a worse longest wait than in 2010. One cancer patient waited 541 days for treatment.

If employed correctly, the automation offered by AI has the potential to greatly reduce staff pressure and improve patient care.

“Earlier detection and diagnosis could fundamentally transform outcomes for people with cancer, as well as saving the NHS money,” comments Sir Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research. “Advances in detection technologies depend on the intelligent use of data and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

“We need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible.”

What are your thoughts on the use of AI in healthcare? Let us know in the comments.

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