TECH
21/05/2018 10:51 BST

AI Could Cut The Cancer Death Rate By 22,000 In The UK - PM Will Say

The claim has already raised some concerns about data privacy however.

Artificial intelligence (AI) could prevent some 22,000 cancer deaths every year by 2033, Theresa May will say later today in a speech on how the NHS can harness patient data.

With vast amounts of data on patients’ habits and genetics, technologies like machine learning could be used to spot those at an early stage of cancer.

By diagnosing cancer earlier, understanding genetic conditions better and by harnessing the data that the NHS has, the Prime Minister will also pledge to help people remain healthier for an extra five years.

Speaking in Macclesfield, Cheshire, Mrs May will say: “Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable death.”

“And the development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease.”

Steve Parsons - PA Images via Getty Images

All of the data and technological advances needed to help cut cancer deaths are available but a system has not yet been set up to bring everything together.

The PM will say at least 50,000 people each year with prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer will be diagnosed at an earlier stage than they would have been.

She will also use the speech to announce another target to ensure that five more years of people’s lives will be healthy, independent and active by 2035.

While the aims are commendable, there are concerns from some about how the NHS will handle and then share this data with third-parties.

In a statement to HuffPost UK, Silkie Carlo, Director of civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch said: “Patient confidentiality is at the heart of any functioning healthcare system but could be at risk with a shift towards AI. We have already seen one NHS Trust break the law by giving 1.6 million identifiable patient records to Google Deepmind, causing distress to many patients.”

“Along with Government plans for AI driven healthcare the public needs to see serious plans for patient privacy and control. Many people don’t want private companies sifting their medical records and lifestyle choices, and we all must be given clear choices.” 

Around £1.4 billion has already been invested in research and development for the “grand challenges” programme the targets are being set under.

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Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive officer of Cancer Research, said that if the changes cut late diagnosis by half in the next 15 years, 22,000 fewer people with lung, bowel, prostate and ovarian cancers would die within five years of their diagnosis.

He added: “Earlier detection and diagnosis could fundamentally transform outcomes for people with cancer, as well as saving the NHS money.

“The Government’s mission to revolutionise healthcare using the power of artificial intelligence is pioneering. Advances in detection technologies depend on the intelligent use of data and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

“We need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible.”

Other chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia will also be targeted.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There is promising evidence that using artificial intelligence to analyse MRI scans could spot early signs of heart disease which may be missed by current techniques. This could lead to a quicker diagnosis with more personalised treatment that could ultimately save lives.”

Indeed earlier this year AI company Ultromics announced that it had successfully built an artificial intelligence (AI) that can diagnose patients with heart disease and lung cancer much earlier than human doctors.

The ability to accurately pick up these problems at a less advanced stage could not only save people from the fatal diseases, but cut huge costs to the health service.

Ross Upton, CEO of Ultromics who created the AI, tells HuffPost UK: “Currently 1 in 5 patients are misdiagnosed, we’ll be able to reduce the number of patients being misdiagnosed by more than 50% which will save thousands of lives.” 

“We plan to give the technology to the NHS for free this year. ”