Artificial intelligence utilized in new VA study for predicting aggressive prostate cancer

Whether we’re ready or not, artificial intelligence may soon play a role in predicting a man’s risk for aggressive prostate cancer.  

Starting July 1, five Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers are collaborating on a research study to create an Artificial Intelligence algorithm. This algorithm aims to determine whether a prostate cancer case can spread to different parts of the body. The study will examine information from over 5,000 Veterans diagnosed with high-risk prostate cancer and who received first treatment. It will also expand to 14 different locations.

Prostate cancer and US veterans

Prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among U.S. veterans, accounting for 30% of new cancer diagnoses in the VA and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It is estimated that one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. 

Some veterans who served in the United States Armed Forces have a higher likelihood of exposure to substances that increase their risk of certain types of cancers. For example, during the Vietnam War, the US military used Agent Orange, an herbicide mix that killed plants. Unfortunately, soldiers exposed to this substance before 1971 have had higher rates of Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphomas, lung cancer, multiple myeloma, cancers of the bronchus, and prostate cancer.

How the study will be administered

This novel approach to detecting aggressive prostate cancer will utilize diagnostic images such as MRIs, high-resolution prostate biopsy scans, and social determinants of health, including income and geographic location. This will help in identifying patterns that indicate the presence of aggressive prostate cancer. The data required for this diagnosis is commonly collected during the initial evaluation of a prostate cancer patient, eliminating any need for additional medical visits and only incurring minimal costs for the facility to use AI.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Discovery, stated that the VA is the only research facility to integrate electronic medical records, high-performance computing, and precision oncology care to develop an AI program like this. According to several studies, the

predictive model for high-risk prostate cancer includes socioeconomic conditions, a significant factor in veterans’ health.

The AI research aims to develop predictive algorithms that can utilize routinely collected data, such as MRIs and biopsies, to determine the severity of prostate cancer cases.

The Predicting Metastatic Progression of High-Risk Localized Prostate Cancer study uses resources exclusive to the VA’s enterprise-wide programs, such as cloud storage, computing infrastructure, and databases. The Million Veteran Program and the Prostate Cancer Foundation-VA partnership are featured in the PACT Act and the 2023 OMNIBUS Appropriations Act.

Dr. Matthew Rettig, the chief of oncology and hematology at the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center and co-principal investigator for the study, stated that creating a digital repository for data can aid in the development, testing, and validation of predictive classifiers that have the potential to impact the clinical management of Veterans with high-risk prostate cancer positively. The infrastructure developed through this research can serve as a valuable hub for future discovery. It can also act as a roadmap to create similar AI algorithms for other cancers, including lung cancer and non-cancerous diseases commonly affecting Veterans.


Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. 

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