AI Tool Predicts Colon Cancer Survival, Treatment Response

Model offers actionable insights for physicians, could augment clinical decisions in resource-limited areas

rendering of a silhouette in blue and colon in red

Image: Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen/iStock/Getty Images Plus

At a glance:

  • New AI tool accurately predicts both overall survival and disease-free survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis.
  • The model uses visual markers on pathology images to glean insights into a tumor’s genomic profile and predicts tumor behavior, disease progression, treatment response.
  • The new model could help augment clinical decision-making.
  • Because the AI tool relies on images alone, it could be particularly valuable for hospitals lacking the technology or expertise to perform sophisticated genomic profiling of tumor tissues.

A new artificial intelligence model designed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan could bring much-needed clarity to doctors delivering prognoses and deciding on treatments for patients with colorectal cancer, the second deadliest cancer worldwide.

Solely by looking at images of tumor samples — microscopic depictions of cancer cells — the new tool accurately predicts how aggressive a colorectal tumor is, how likely the patient is to survive with and without disease recurrence, and what the optimal therapy might be for them.

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Having a tool that answers such questions could help clinicians and patients navigate this wily disease, which often behaves differently even among people with similar disease profiles who receive the same treatment — and could ultimately spare some of the 1 million lives that colorectal cancer claims every year.

A report on the team’s work is published in Nature Communications.