AI software in Somerset transforms prostate cancer diagnosis

The Somerset trust has rolled out a 'groundbreaking' way of supporting doctors to diagnose the condition, with the use of AI tool ‘Pi’

Published: 02 April 2024 MRI

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has introduced an AI tool to work alongside teams of radiologists in diagnosing prostate cancer.

In collaboration with Cambridge-based technology company, Lucida Medical, and with support from charities Macmillan Cancer Support and Prostate Cancer Research, the tool – known as ‘Pi’ – is being introduced at Yeovil District and Musgrove Park hospitals.

Pi, an accronym for Prostate Intelligence, will assist radiologists in detecting clinically significant prostate cancer, using an AI technique that looks at a prostate MRI scan.

Relieving pressure

Somerset first participated in a multi-centre national trial, called ‘PAIR-1’, which assessed the effectiveness of Pi. The trust then trialled a version of Pi, and compared its results to radiologists’ reports in over 700 patients, to check that it would work for their purposes.

Within a few minutes of the patient having their MRI scan, the Pi tool displays a number that gives a probability of cancer on the scan. It also shows the exact location of any tumours in the prostate by adding a colour overlay to the scan images.

The software is located securely on a server within the hospital, so no patient data leaves the trust.

Dr Paul Burn, a consultant radiologist at Somerset, explained how the trust hopes to make use of the technology.

He said: “Using it, we expect to help relieve pressure within our hospital, by enabling patients to go through the diagnostic pathway more rapidly and reducing diagnostic waiting times. It will also support our clinical departments that have smaller numbers of MRI reporters to manage their workload.

“We know that we have to be very careful with the way we use AI, and it’s not intended to replace a human being in this context – instead it’s simply helping to speed up the workflow and potentially aiding our radiologists provide a more accurate diagnosis.

“In many ways we’re using it as a ‘reporting buddy’, so it’ll help with prioritising patients based on clinical need, and telling us which patients we should report on first because they have a higher probability of cancer. Pi also measures the volume of the prostate gland for us, a repetitive job that is time-consuming for radiologists to do manually."

Speeding up the process

Patients with prostate cancer have a complicated diagnostic pathway, needing an MRI and a biopsy. Dr. Burn added it is often “challenging” to complete all the steps within the national 28 day Faster Diagnosis Standard.

He continued: “Our aim is that by using this AI software, we will be able to speed up the process and enable us to prioritise those with cancer. It’ll also free up our radiologists to report on additional patients every day, and may in future allow us to book the patient in for a biopsy more quickly.”

Macmillan estimates that there are more than 500,000 men living with prostate cancer in the UK. It’s the most common cancer in men, and one in eight men will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Prostate cancer is particularly dangerous when found at stages 3 or 4, and more than 12,000 deaths occur in the UK each year.

Dr Anthony Cunliffe, national lead medical adviser at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Pi has the potential to transform how we diagnose and monitor patients with prostate cancer, so we’re thrilled to see this software being put to use in Musgrove Park and Yeovil. We look forward to seeing more hospitals across the UK and Europe recognising the great potential of this technology.”

(Image: Colleagues at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust are pictured (left to right): Dr Paul Burn – consultant radiologist, Mr Neil Trent – consultant urologist, Miriam Spicer – cancer improvement manager, Adam Turner – head of radiology services, via Somerset NHS FT)