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HealthWatch: Artificial Intelligence Used To Detect, Prevent Colon Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Doctors are hopeful using artificial intelligence can be a better way to detect and prevent colon cancer.

It's a combination of traditional colonoscopy and computers that can show doctors colon polyps they might otherwise miss, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Wednesday.

With colon cancer on both his mother and father's side, John Gifford said he diligent about getting a colonoscopy every five years. So when his doctor offered a more accurate test -- using AI -- Gifford immediately said yes.

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

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

"Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer in the United States," UC-Irvine Health Dr. William Karnes said.

MOREAmerican Cancer Society Issues New Colon Screening Guidelines

Karnes said the AI colonoscopy can identify up to 20 percent more abnormalities than a conventional exam. The system uses an algorithm that analyzes 98 images a second during a standard colonoscopy 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 exactly that, detecting two polyps that were just beginning to form in his colon. Karnes was able to remove each one during the same procedure.

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

It was a potentially life-saving find, thanks to a smarter scan.

MOREStudy: Location Of Colon Cancer May Affect Chance Of Survival

Unlike other cancer tests that find tumors at an early and hopefully treatable stage, a colonoscopy can actually prevent cancer. That's because a doctor can find and remove polyps during a colonoscopy even before they become cancerous. And with the aid of AI, even more pre-cancers can be found and removed.

For now, the AI colonoscopy is just being offered at UC-Irvine but because it's a fairly simple computer upgrade, doctors hope it will soon become standard practice.

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