Virtua Health Launches A.I. Technology to Enhance Colon Cancer Screenings
June 28, 2023 - Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system, has begun using artificial intelligence (A.I.) to help doctors detect the presence of possible precancerous lesions during colonoscopies.
Virtua is the first in the Greater Philadelphia region and New Jersey to implement this technology at all of its hospitals. The GI Genius™ intelligent endoscopy module is now available at all five Virtua hospitals in Burlington and Camden counties.
GI Genius™ helps physicians identify difficult-to-spot polyps during a colonoscopy – the most effective tool for identifying colon cancer, the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States.1
“GI Genius is like a second set of eyes for the physician during a colonoscopy,” said Gregory Seltzer, MD, medical director of Virtua GI and Digestive Health. “This technology combines the skill and training of the gastroenterologist (GI doctor) with the latest innovation in colon cancer detection.”
GI Genius™ was developed with a robust dataset of more than 13 million polyp images helping it to detect lesions in real time. As the doctor scopes the colon for precancerous or possibly cancerous polyps, the technology places a neon green square around suspicious areas on the physician’s screen, inviting the doctor to take a closer look.
As the GI Genius™ database expands, it enables the A.I. to become increasingly skilled in differentiating healthy tissue from areas of concern. Studies have shown that A.I.-assisted colonoscopy can increase polyp detection rates, and every 1% increase in this rate potentially reduces the risk of cancer by 3%.2,3
“GI Genius is like having a co-pilot to ensure the procedure is as thorough as possible,” Dr. Seltzer explained.
Colonoscopies Save Lives
“Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancer types when it’s detected early, which is why we encourage everyone ages 45 and older to participate in routine colonoscopies or as advised by their doctor,” said Keith Meslin, MD, section chief for colorectal surgery at Virtua. “People who are considered high-risk due to known medical concerns and family history should get into the habit at an even younger age.”
Moreover, more people are being diagnosed with colon cancer at younger ages than in the past. The American Cancer Society reported that colon cancer diagnoses of people ages 55 and younger nearly doubled from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019.4 The 2020 death of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman at age 43 speaks to this concerning trend.
“When people think about colonoscopies, they might first think about the unpleasant prep that’s required,” said Dr. Seltzer. (The “prep” is generally a period of fasting and drinking a special solution to help empty the colon.) “But being proactive about your health can help detect cancer early, which makes it easier to treat. It is also important to remember that a colonoscopy not only detects cancer, but also prevents it by removing precancerous polyps. If you fell out of the habit during the pandemic, it’s time to resume routine screenings.”
“We see ourselves as partners in health and wellness,” added Dr. Meslin, who recently performed his 1,000th robotically assisted colon cancer surgery – placing him in the 99th percentile of experience nationally in this state-of-the-art treatment.
“With the addition of GI Genius and other recent technological advances, we are helping ensure the people of South Jersey have access to the latest, greatest care,” he said.
Advancing Care for the Region
Virtua GI and Digestive Health includes more than 50 South Jersey clinicians and provides comprehensive treatments for the entire digestive system. Common conditions treated include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Pancreatic disease
- Liver disease
- Gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers
Virtua has implemented a multi-year campaign to build awareness of the importance of colonoscopies as a proven method to detect and treat cancer. This includes an award-winning series of social media posts that highlight 1990s trends and emphasize that 45 is the new recommended age to receive this annual screening. In other words, if you went to high school in the ’90s (and maybe had the big hair or bucket hat to prove it!), it’s probably time to get a colonoscopy.
Virtua’s five hospitals, which all offer GI Genius™, are:
- Virtua Marlton Hospital
- Virtua Mount Holly Hospital
- Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (in Camden)
- Virtua Voorhees Hospital
- Virtua Willingboro Hospital
Empowering Partnerships that Increase Health Equity
In 2021, Virtua and Medtronic announced a collaboration intended to reimagine traditional health care models. This partnership includes a dedicated effort to address health equity and advance population health. National data speaks to disparities in cancer care and outcomes. For instance:
- African Americans have the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the United States. Genetics may play a role, but access to screening and quality care are contributing social determinants of health.5
- People with less education are more likely to die prematurely (before age 65) from colorectal cancer than those with more education, regardless of race or ethnicity.6
“Often, health care is most effective when it’s delivered locally. That said, we can leverage relationships with international industry leaders to ensure the people in Virtua’s service area are among the first to access emerging technologies and innovations,” said Tarun Kapoor, MD, MBA, senior vice president and chief digital transformation officer for Marlton-based Virtua Health.
In February 2023, Virtua launched a partnership with Memora Health to streamline care delivery and improve the patient experience through 24/7, two-way communication tools. Colonoscopy-related communications are part of the pilot program.
“We recognize our patients are busy people with busy lives,” said Dr. Kapoor. “Anything we can do to enhance and simplify their start-to-finish experience shows that we value their time and appreciate their commitment to good health.”
To learn more about not-for-profit Virtua and its mission to help people “be well, get well, and stay well,” visit virtua.org. To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, you can also call 888-VIRTUA-3.
- Corley DA, et al. Adenoma detection rate and risk of colorectal cancer and death. N Eng J Med. 2014;370:1298-306.
- Repici A, Badalamenti M, Maselli R, et al. Efficacy of real-time computer-aided detection of colorectal neoplasia in a randomized trial. Gastroenterology. 2020; 159:512–520.e7.
- Racial Disparities in Colorectal Cancer: What Can Be Done? (healthline.com)
- Cancer Disparities - NCI