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Friday, 23 April, 1999, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Computer 'more accurate than cancer doctors'
Test results and other data were fed into the computer programme
A computer programme can predict the progress of bladder cancer more accurately than doctors, a cancer conference has heard.

Professor Raouf Naguib of Coventry University told the American Association for Cancer Research's annual conference that tests on computer software show that it can give a more accurate prognosis for bladder cancer than specialists.

Computer software has already been used for prognoses for a range of diseases, including breast and prostate cancer, but it is not routinely used as yet.

Professor Naguib says the bladder cancer software incorporates neural networks. These allow it to recognise complex patterns in data and be more flexible than other statistical techniques.

Key markers

It works by analysing 15 key markers, including age, gender, history, whether a person smokes, the stage the tumour is at and the number of other tumours which might be linked to it and their location.

Professor Naguib, Professor Freddie Hamdy and Mr Khaver Qureshi of Sheffield University and Professor David Neal and Mr Kilian Mellon of Newcastle University used data from 210 patients with newly diagnosed bladder cancer to test the programme.

They found that, for people with early stage cancer, the computer could predict the progress of their cancer over a six-month period with 80% accuracy, as opposed to 74% for urologists.

But for people with invasive, advanced cancer the computer was 82% accurate on their one-year survival chances, compared with an accuracy rate of just 65% for doctors.

The computer takes just seconds to deliver its prognosis.

No replacement

But Professor Naguib said the programme was still in its early stages and said it should not be seen as a replacement for urologists.

"This is a tool which can be used in conjunction with medical experience and with more established statistical methods," he said.

"Patients want to know what their expectations are as soon as they can. This computer programme will help doctors give a more educated guess since a guess is all they can give."

"We are in the early stages, but the results are very promising," he said.

Up until now, computer programmes have analysed data retrospectively.

Professor Naguib says the next challenge is to use the computers to predict what might happen from new data.

Professor John Fox of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) said the research seemed "very promising".

"The published evidence that computers can provide doctors with powerful tools for helping in the diagnosis and treatment of disease is growing rapidly," he said.

He added that UK research on the use of computers in medicine was internationally respected.

The ICRF is researching new diagnostic markers for cancer and has itself been investigating the use of computers in treating, diagnosing and preventing cancer.

Bladder cancer

It is not known what causes bladder cancer, but risk factors are thought to include smoking and exposure to some chemicals at work, including rubber.

Symptoms of the disease include blood in the urine and a burning feeling which does not go away after treatment with antibiotics.

Over 54,000 people in the US develop bladder cancer every year. Around 11,700 die from the disease.

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