Yesterday Google honored the memory of Dr. George Papanicolaou (his 136th birthday) with a venerable Google-Doodle. Papanicolaou was a pioneer in cancer cytology and the developer of the Papanicolaou test, now known as the “pap smear,” which allows early detection of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in women prior to the advent of Pap smear screening. (Sadly, despite big strides, it continues to compete with breast cancer in women’s cancer mortality.) Papanicolaou’s test was the first mass screening test for cancer in the history of medicine, and arguably the most successful. Today, thousands of women and their descendants owe their lives to this simple procedure, which has become a standard of care in women’s health.
As I read up on this remarkable man, it occurred to me that just as the pap smear did in the 20th century, so too will medical AI applications likely produce a tremendous revolution in preventive medicine. From what I have learned while working at Aidoc, we can envision a future where Radiology AI applications will prevent missed nodules from becoming unfollowed cancers, prevent incidental findings from being neglected, measure subtle (perhaps invisible) changes which may prove dangerous, and even predict the cytology of a nodule or tumor based on its radiologic appearance or its interval change.
These are just a few of the radiologic applications—numerous other medical AI enterprises will soon offer an analysis of data in other parts of a patient’s medical information to screen, predict, or otherwise safeguard. Aidoc’s “Always-on” deployment with medical centers of various sizes and types, in a number of countries, has permitted us to glimpse and contribute to just a small part of what could be a tremendous improvement in outcomes. I like to imagine that Dr. Papaniculaou would be proud to have a share in inspiring this progress.