Published online Aug 28, 2021. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v27.i32.5306
Peer-review started: January 27, 2021
First decision: March 7, 2021
Revised: March 13, 2021
Accepted: July 22, 2021
Article in press: July 22, 2021
Published online: August 28, 2021
The high incidence of rectal cancer in both sexes makes it one of the most common tumors, with significant morbidity and mortality rates. To define the best treatment option and optimize patient outcome, several rectal cancer biological variables must be evaluated. Currently, medical imaging plays a crucial role in the characterization of this disease, and it often requires a multimodal approach. Magnetic resonance imaging is the first-choice imaging modality for local staging and restaging and can be used to detect high-risk prognostic factors. Computed tomography is widely adopted for the detection of distant metastases. However, conventional imaging has recognized limitations, and many rectal cancer characteristics remain assessable only after surgery and histopathology evaluation. There is a growing interest in artificial intelligence applications in medicine, and imaging is by no means an exception. The introduction of radiomics, which allows the extraction of quantitative features that reflect tumor heterogeneity, allows the mining of data in medical images and paved the way for the identification of potential new imaging biomarkers. To manage such a huge amount of data, the use of machine learning algorithms has been proposed. Indeed, without prior explicit programming, they can be employed to build prediction models to support clinical decision making. In this review, current applications and future perspectives of artificial intelligence in medical imaging of rectal cancer are presented, with an imaging modality-based approach and a keen eye on unsolved issues. The results are promising, but the road ahead for translation in clinical practice is rather long.
Core Tip: Rectal cancer is a common malignancy requiring a multidisciplinary approach to ensure the best clinical management. Diagnostic imaging has contributed to increased survival rates and provided crucial information on the course of rectal cancer patients. Artificial intelligence, and in particular radiomics and machine learning, are promising techniques that could further enhance the value of medical imaging, allowing the building of decision support tools based on quantitative data. We herein present and discuss the potential role of artificial intelligence in rectal cancer applied to different medical imaging modalities.