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New AI tool at UCHealth improves polyp detection rate during colonoscopies

In 2023, colorectal cancer was the second deadliest type of cancer in America. The new tool aims to lower that rate.
New report: Millions of people eligible for colon cancer screenings
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Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 17:43:55-04

DENVER — Sarah Wartell first started noticing the signs in 2020.

“I went to the ER a couple times, you know, being told it was food poisoning or, you know, a stomach bug,” said Wartell.

She was experiencing weight loss, abdominal pain, and nausea among other things – all symptoms of colon cancer.

Despite being brushed off by multiple doctors, she kept pushing for answers.

“When they were telling me no, it's anxiety, I kind of felt like I was losing my mind if I'm being perfectly honest,” she said.

Finally, Wartell underwent a colonoscopy that would save her life.

Doctors diagnosed her with stage three colon cancer at the age of 40.

Wartell is one of millions of Americans receiving a colon cancer diagnosis at a younger age.

Advocating for herself is what saved her life, and something that UCHealth associate professor of medicine Dr. Swati Patel advises.

“The best time to talk about colon cancer risk and screening is the moment you meet your doctor. You're never too young to discuss this. And when you are eligible for screening, the best test is the one that gets done,” said Dr. Patel.

This past fall, UCHealth implemented a new AI tool that acts as a second set of eyes during endoscopies.

It allows surgeons like Dr. Patel to detect even the smallest polyps.

“If more people are looking at the screen, we improve polyp detection rate,” she said. “I think you know, long term, it's still to say whether adding this technology really improves large polyp detection or certainly cancer detection. But it sort of equalizes the playing field to ensure that everyone's getting kind of a good quality colonoscopy in terms of the inspection.”

Wartell is now cancer-free after getting treated by experts at UCHealth.

With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, she has this advice for others:

“Take good care of you. You're precious. You're important. Your body, it gives you all the arrows and cues - just listen to ‘em.”

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