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Cancer screening promised major overhaul - with AI at centre

Friday November 16th, 2018

NHS officials have promised a “major overhaul” of cancer screening programmes to be led by one of UK’s most senior specialists.

The news followed the latest hiccough in the programmes as it emerged that more than 40,000 pieces of correspondence about the cervical smear programme had gone astray following problems with contractors Capita.

Some recent studies have raised doubts about the effectiveness of present programmes.

The overhaul is to be led by former hospitals chief inspector Professor Sir Mike Richards, formerly the first director of cancer in the NHS.

Professor Richards will examine how to improve uptake of screening and investigate the use of artificial intelligence in the analysis of test results.

He promised to examine “recent issues” in the screening programmes.

The project was welcomed by the Royal College of Radiologists and by cancer charities.

Professor Richards said: “There is no doubt that the screening programmes in England save thousands of lives every year, however, as part of implementing NHS’s long term plan, we want to make certain they are as effective as possible.

“This review provides the opportunity to look at recent advances in technology and innovative approaches to selecting people for screening, ensuring the NHS screening programme can go from strength to strength and save more lives.”

NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Screening is a vital and effective tool in our fight against cancer. However, recent issues with breast and cervical cancer screening have shown that we need to look closely at these existing programmes.”

RCR vice-president Dr Caroline Rubin, a breast radiologist, said welcomed a promise that staffing levels would be reviewed.

She said: “Breast cancer diagnosis and prognosis is complex, and there are huge opportunities to introduce new imaging technologies and expertise to the programme to enable personalised screening and better categorisation of woman at risk.

“The RCR recognises and anticipates the clinical application of artificial intelligence in improving tumour detection, in tandem with clinicians, and we are starting to see radiologist-led AI developments coming out of academic centres and commercial companies.”

Dr Fran Woodard, from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The review should aim to find short-term fixes to address failings in the delivery of screening programmes.

“Everyone who is eligible for screening should be invited promptly, able to book an appointment easily and receive their results as quickly as possible, which is particularly crucial at a time when people are often experiencing significant anxiety.”

Tags: Cancer | NHS | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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