Google’s cancer-spotting AI outperforms radiologists in reading lung CT scans

When applied to over 45,800 deidentified chest CT screenings, the AI detected 5% more cancer cases and 11% fewer false positives compared to unassisted radiologists, according to Google. (Wikimedia Commons)

Google’s artificial intelligence development has reached a milestone in lung cancer imaging and prediction, with a CT scan model being able to diagnose cases as well as or better than a group of six radiologists.

Alongside researchers at Northwestern University, New York University-Langone Medical Center and Stanford Medicine, Google’s AI team was able to generate an overall prediction of malignancy from 3D volumetric scans, as well as identify subtle lung nodules.

Instead of viewing hundreds of individual 2D slices from a single low-dose CT scan as a radiologist would, the AI examines the lungs as a single 3D object—while also noting any changes over time by comparing differences with a patient’s previous scans in order to help measure the growth rates of any suspicious lesions.

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And when applied to over 45,800 de-identified chest CT screenings, gathered from research data sets from the National Institutes of Health and Northwestern University, the researchers were able to detect 5% more cancer cases while reducing false-positives by more than 11% compared to the findings of unassisted radiologists.

In one case, Google described how the AI detected potential lung cancer that had previously been ruled out in an asymptomatic patient with no history of cancer. In a company blog post, technical lead Shravya Shetty wrote that this early progress lays the groundwork for future clinical testing. The researchers’ results were published in Nature Medicine.

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Going forward, Google’s AI team will be collaborating with the company’s cloud-based healthcare and life sciences divisions to prepare the model for further clinical validation and eventual deployment, according to Shetty.

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