Artificial intelligence (AI) reduced the rate at which precancerous polyps were missed in colorectal cancer screening by twofold, reported a team of international researchers.

Most colon polyps are harmless, but some over time develop into colon or rectal cancer, which can be fatal if found in its later stages. Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly cancer in the world, with an estimated 1.9 million cases and 916,000 deaths worldwide in 2020, according to the World Health Organization. 

The results of the study, led by Mayo Clinic, are published in Gastroenterology.

Between February 2020 and May 2021, 230 study participants each underwent two back-to-back colonoscopies on the same day at eight hospitals and community clinics in the U.S., U.K. and Italy. One colonoscopy used AI; the other, a standard colonoscopy, did not.

The rate at which precancerous colorectal polyps is missed has been estimated to be 25%. In this study, the miss rate was 15.5% in the group that had the AI colonoscopy first. The miss rate was 32.4 % in the group that had standard colonoscopy first. The AI colonoscopy detected more polyps that were smaller, flatter and in the proximal and distal colon.

 “Colorectal cancer is almost entirely preventable with proper screening,” says senior author Michael B. Wallace, MD, division chair of gastroenterology and hepatology at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and the Fred C. Andersen Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. “Using artificial intelligence to detect colon polyps and potentially save lives is welcome and promising news for patients and their families.”

In addition, false negative rates were 6.8% in the group that had the AI colonoscopy first. It was 29.6% in the group that had standard colonoscopy first.

The study’s senior author and principal investigator is Wallace, MD, of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

Cosmo Artificial Intelligence-AI Ltd. funded the study.

Wallace has financial interests in Verily, Cosmo Pharmaceuticals, Fujifilm, Olympus and Virgo.