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Doctors hope AI colonoscopies could help save lives

With colon cancer on both his mother and father's side of his family, John Gifford is diligent about getting a colonoscopy every five years. So when his doctors offered a new test using artificial intelligence, he immediately said yes.

"We're living in a tech world and so this seems like the next obvious evolution," Gifford told CBS News.

The AI colonoscopy, developed by doctors at the University of California Irvine (UCI), was designed to spot polyps, where all colorectal cancers begin.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's the third most common cancer in men and in women.

Dr. William Karnes, a gastroenterologist at UCI Health, says the AI colonoscopy can identify up to 20 percent more abnormalities than a traditional test. The system uses an algorithm, analyzing 98 images a second as it searches for both formed polyps and even tissue that could become one. The program shows the results to doctors in real time during the procedure.

"It may actually identify a polyp that we otherwise would have missed," Karnes said.

In Gifford's case, the test did just that, detecting two polyps that were beginning to form on his colon.

"Something that may not have shown up for another three, four, five years," he said.

For now, doctors at UC Irvine are only offering the artificial intelligence colonoscopy one day a week.

In a March press release, Karnes said they planned to launch a randomized study once the technology was ready. Then, he said, "We'll see — with the overlay and without it — if the AI increases the rate of polyp discovery."