The growing power of AI is opening up new possibilities for opportunistic screening – the detection of pathology using data acquired for other clinical indications. The potential of CT-based opportunistic screening – and AI’s role in its growth – was explored in a session at RSNA 2023.
What’s so interesting about opportunistic screening with CT?
- As one of imaging’s most widely used modalities, CT scans are already being acquired for many clinical indications, collecting body composition data on muscle, fat, and bone that can be biomarkers for hidden pathology.
What’s more, AI-based tools are replacing many of the onerous manual measurement tasks that previously required radiologist involvement. There are four primary biomarkers for opportunistic screening, which are typically related to several major pathologies, said Perry Pickhardt, MD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led off the RSNA session:
- Skeletal muscle density (sarcopenia)
- Hard calcified plaque, either coronary or aortic (cardiovascular risk)
- Visceral fat (cardiovascular risk)
- Bone mineral density (osteoporosis and fractures)
But what about the economics of opportunistic screening?
- A recent study in Abdominal Radiology found that in a hypothetical cohort of 55-year-old men and women, AI-assisted opportunistic screening for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia was more cost-effective compared to both “no-treatment” and “statins for all” strategies – even assuming a $250/scan charge for use of AI.
But there are barriers to opportunistic screening, despite its potential. In a follow-up talk, Arun Krishnaraj, MD, of UVA Health in Virginia said he believes fully automated AI algorithms are needed to avoid putting the burden on radiologists.
And the regulatory environment for AI tools is complex and must be navigated, said Bernardo Bizzo, MD, PhD, of Mass General Brigham.
Ready to take the plunge? The steps for setting up a screening program using AI were described in another talk by John Garrett, PhD, Pickhardt’s colleague at UW-Madison. This includes:
- Normalizing your data for AI tools
- Identifying the anatomical landmarks you want to focus on
- Automatically segmenting areas of interest
- Making the biomarker measurements
- Plugging your data into AI models to predict outcomes and risk-stratify patients
Opportunistic screening has the potential to flip the script in the debate over radiology utilization, making imaging exams more cost-effective while detecting additional pathology and paving the way to more personalized medicine. With AI’s help, radiologists have the opportunity to place themselves at the center of modern healthcare.