Improving the proportion of patients diagnosed with early-stage cancer is a key priority of the World Health Organisation. In many tumour groups, screening programmes have led to improvements in survival, but patient selection and risk stratification are key challenges. In addition, there are concerns about limited diagnostic workforces, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, placing a strain on pathology and radiology services. In this review, we discuss how artificial intelligence algorithms could assist clinicians in (1) screening asymptomatic patients at risk of cancer, (2) investigating and triaging symptomatic patients, and (3) more effectively diagnosing cancer recurrence. We provide an overview of the main artificial intelligence approaches, including historical models such as logistic regression, as well as deep learning and neural networks, and highlight their early diagnosis applications. Many data types are suitable for computational analysis, including electronic healthcare records, diagnostic images, pathology slides and peripheral blood, and we provide examples of how these data can be utilised to diagnose cancer. We also discuss the potential clinical implications for artificial intelligence algorithms, including an overview of models currently used in clinical practice. Finally, we discuss the potential limitations and pitfalls, including ethical concerns, resource demands, data security and reporting standards.
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