AI May Be Better at Identifying Skin Cancer Than Human Doctors

iStock
iStock

Screening for skin cancer is an imperfect science, but an international team of scientists believes AI can help boost the test's accuracy. As they report in a study published in the Annals of Oncology, a machine-learning program known as a deep learning convolutional neural network (CNN) can be trained to recognize skin cancer with a greater success rate than professional dermatologists.

Researchers taught the CNN to identify skin cancer by showing it more than 100,000 images of malignant melanomas and benign moles. "The CNN works like the brain of a child," co-author Holger Haenssle, senior managing physician at the University of Heidelberg, said in a statement. That means the more information it's given about a certain task, the more it can learn and fine-tune its performance.

After training the AI with a database of images, the researchers showed it a different set of images it had never seen before. The CNN correctly diagnosed skin cancer from images alone 95 percent of the time. When 58 dermatologists were given the same task, the were able to catch only 86.6 percent of the malignant melanomas. The CNN was also less likely to misdiagnose a benign mole as cancerous.

The results don't necessarily mean that AI robots will be replacing flesh-and-blood doctors (or even pigeons) for cancer screenings in the near future. Rather, the researchers see the program acting as a supplement to dermatologists in the clinic, perhaps by evaluating images already stored in the doctors' databases and generating "expert opinions" on the likelihood of cancer.

Even as a doctor's aid, the CNN in its current state leaves room for improvement: The images it looked at were mostly of white patients that didn't include the full range of skin lesions. Diagnosing melanomas that show up on fingers, toes, and scalps also presents a challenge when working with an image-based system. Nonetheless, the researchers are confident that these issues won't stop AI from playing a role in future cancer screenings. "Given exponential development of imaging technology, we envisage that sooner than later, automated diagnosis will change the diagnostic paradigm in dermatology," researchers said. 

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

The Red Cross Is in Dire Need of Type O Blood. Here's How You Can Help

iStock.com/fotografixx
iStock.com/fotografixx

If you've ever thought about donating blood and happen to have type O, now would be a good time to take action. The Red Cross issued a statement this week calling for donors to help offset what's become a massive shortage of the blood type.

The organization said that an average of 12 units of type O is needed for every 100,000 people on a daily basis. Currently, only six units are available. The Red Cross cites spring break schedules and end-of-school-year activities as reasons blood donations in local communities have temporarily diminished.

Of the eight most common blood types (A+, A-, B+, B-, O+, O-, AB+, AB-), type O is needed because type O- is the universal blood type. If emergency room technicians don't have time to assess a critical patient's blood type, they opt for type O-, which is carried by approximately 7 percent of the population but can be used for any kind of blood transfusion. Type O+ can be used for any patient with a positive blood type and is found in 38 percent of the population.

Donors can find Red Cross locations and schedule an appointment through the organization's Blood Donor app, by going to redcrossblood.org, or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Donations made through June 10 will be rewarded with a $5 Amazon gift card.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER