GUANGZHOU, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Chinese researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) medical tool that can help doctors target head and neck tumor cells faster and more accurately, according to an article published in the international journal Radiology.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is cancer that starts in the nasopharynx, which is the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Due to the organ structure and its location in the human body, surgery is always difficult, and radiation therapy is the most common form of treatment.
Radiation can kill tumor cells but has to pass through 40 vital organs including the brainstem and eyeballs before reaching the nasopharynx.
"Insufficient radiation exposure may cause cancer recurrence, while excessive exposure may result in brain damage, hearing loss and other side effects," said Lin Li, the first author of the article.
Accuracy in tumor delineation on diagnostic images is key to radiation therapy. However, manual delineation is labor intensive and highly variable among doctors.
"It can take a senior doctor two to three hours to target the tumor volume on a CT or MRI, but for inexperienced doctors, it will take at least six hours," said lead researcher Sun Ying.
Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University, along with computer experts from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, constructed an AI contouring tool that could automatically delineate the gross tumor volume on patient's MRI data.
In the study, researchers collected MRI data sets covering the nasopharynx from 1,021 patients and applied the AI tool with a 3D convolutional neural network, a new medical image segmentation technique. The AI was then trained to automatically delineate the tumor volume with thousands of images of 818 patients and were defined by the consensus of two human experts.
In a competition with doctors from renowned hospitals, the AI contouring accuracy reached 79 percent with 203 patients, taking 20 to 50 minutes per case, outperforming the accuracy of its human competitors.
"The AI contouring tool can help inexperienced doctors reach expert level, raising their work efficiency, which will also have a positive impact on tumor control and patient survival," said Sun.
The AI tool will be put into clinical test in more places, Sun said.