An innovative use of artificial intelligence (AI) is helping to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients at three Dublin hospitals. In the first major use of AI in Irish cancer services up to 5,000 patients a year are set to benefit from more efficient preparation for radiotherapy.
AI is being deployed to help staff who are examining the scan of a cancer patient to define which areas of tissue need to be targeted during radiotherapy, and where the therapy needs to avoid in order to minimise side effects.
Traditionally this mapping of healthy and cancerous tissue is carried out manually by a radiation oncologist or radiation therapist, and can take 30 to 90 minutes for a head/neck or pelvic cancer. The new software can perform the process in 60-120 seconds. Its work must then be checked by staff, but this can be completed within minutes.
While the technology developed by Finnish company MVision is increasingly being used in the UK and at cancer centres in other European states, the St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network is one of the first radiotherapy centres in Ireland to bring it into clinical practice.
“This software will allow oncologists and radiation therapists to dedicate much more time to direct patient care, as well as speeding up the process between attending for a CT scan and starting treatment,” says Prof Charles Gillham, network director. “It also ensures greater consistency in radiotherapy planning.”
The technology can be used for virtually all cancers treated in the network; exceptions include superficial skin cancers and thyroid cancer.
It is funded by Friends of St Luke’s and St Luke’s Cancer Research Fund. Prof Gillham says he hopes the HSE will support it after an initial three-year period.
Though surprised at the exceptional pace at which AI technologies are being developed, he does not believe they will replace the work done by cancer doctors. “This is facilitating what we do, not replacing us. It’s important to do the checks afterwards, but they can be carried out much faster than before.”
The network is the largest provider of radiation oncology services in Ireland, operating across three centres at St Luke’s Hospital in Rathgar, and on the campuses of St James’s Hospital and Beaumont Hospital.
MVision, whose technology has been used on 100,000 patients in 14 countries, says that with manual planning a patient often needs to wait several weeks for treatment to start. However, automation enables same-day treatment.