Risk-based algorithm could improve cancer screenings

This time the intelligence is not artificial


An algorithm capable of estimating the risk that a particular patient will develop prostate cancer over the next five years should be used in a national screening program in the UK, one of the software's creators has said.

One in eight men in the United Kingdom will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, according to charity Prostate Cancer UK. Over 47,500 men are diagnosed with the disease, and more than 11,500 die from it, every year. Despite these grim statistics, prostate cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer if it's caught early.

The most common form of screening is a regular blood test. Doctors look for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by cells in the prostate gland. Elevated levels could mean the cells are malignant. Patients in those cases are typically called in for a follow-up biopsy exam to confirm whether they have cancer or not.

PSA tests, however, aren't always reliable and tend to flag false positives, which results in unwanted and unnecessary biopsies.

Alternatively, one can screen for PSA as well as human kallikrein peptidase (hK2), another cancer biomarker. Though hK2 is a weak marker, it can help improve the accuracy of PSA testing. Scientists led by the University College London paired this duo-marker approach with an algorithm that factors in a patient's age to ultimately determine their risk of developing prostate cancer.

To come up with this software, the academics analyzed blood samples from more than 21,000 men, singling out data from 571 men who died of prostate cancer, and 2,169 men who did not contract the disease. The team then took the PSA and hK2 levels from those samples, and the ages of the men, and used this information to devise a bog-standard algorithm capable of automatically estimating a man's risk of developing prostate cancer from their age and PSA and hK2 levels.

The team said their screening approach could achieve, for regularly tested men aged 55 and over, a 90 percent detection rate with a false positive rate of 1.2 percent.

The PSA test alone had a detection rate of 86 percent, with a false positive rate of two percent. Scaling the algorithm approach down to 86 per cent detection rate yielded a 0.5 false positive rate, according to the scientists, allowing them to claim their software-based double-marker technique can reduce false positives by three quarters while maintaining the same level of detection as today's PSA testing.

These results were published in the Journal of Medical Screening.

"Our study shows a different screening approach could reduce the number of false positives by three quarters," said Sir Nicholas Wald, lead author of the paper and a professor at UCL's Institute of Health Informatics. "This would make screening for prostate cancer safer and more accurate, reducing overdiagnosis and overtreatment."

Sir Nicholas wants to test the algorithm on more patients to see whether it can be used in real clinical settings.

"The next step is to test the feasibility of this approach in practice with a pilot project inviting healthy men for screening. If the project is successful, we believe this approach ought to be considered as part of a national screening program for all men," he concluded. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lenovo halves its ThinkPad workstation range
    Two becomes one as ThinkPad P16 stands alone and HX replaces mobile Xeon

    Lenovo has halved its range of portable workstations.

    The Chinese PC giant this week announced the ThinkPad P16. The loved-by-some ThinkPad P15 and P17 are to be retired, The Register has confirmed.

    The P16 machine runs Intel 12th Gen HX CPUs, but only up to the i7 models – so maxes out at 14 cores and 4.8GHz clock speed. The laptop is certified to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and can ship with that, Ubuntu, and Windows 11 or 10. The latter is pre-installed as a downgrade right under Windows 11.

    Continue reading
  • US won’t prosecute ‘good faith’ security researchers under CFAA
    Well, that clears things up? Maybe not.

    The US Justice Department has directed prosecutors not to charge "good-faith security researchers" with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) if their reasons for hacking are ethical — things like bug hunting, responsible vulnerability disclosure, or above-board penetration testing.

    Good-faith, according to the policy [PDF], means using a computer "solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability."

    Additionally, this activity must be "carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services."

    Continue reading
  • Intel plans immersion lab to chill its power-hungry chips
    AI chips are sucking down 600W+ and the solution could be to drown them.

    Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies to the datacenter.

    The project will see Intel construct a 200,000-square-foot "mega lab" approximately 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test, and demo its expansive — and power hungry — datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

    Alongside the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips that is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant is hoping to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it'll then be rolled out globally.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022