How Europe’s clinicians and patients are using data & AI to fight cancer
Fabian Bolin was just 28 years old when he found out he had leukemia. A promising actor, the diagnosis of cancer made him feel as if he suddenly lost control of his future and that nothing could help him regain it.
His experience is all too common.
Each year, there are an estimated 3.7 million new cases of cancer and 1.9 million deaths from the disease in Europe. According to the World Health Organization, despite making up only one eighth of the total global population, Europe bears a quarter of the world’s cancer cases. In fact, cancer is the second leading cause of death across the region behind cardiovascular disease.
While Europe is home to some of the best and most established healthcare systems in the world, cancer remains a formidable opponent. Today, leading healthcare providers and organizations are using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) to engage and support patients, empower doctors and accelerate research. Moving us one-step closer to help manage and conquer the disease.
Giving power back to the patient
When Fabian was first diagnosed, he felt powerless and began sharing his experiences on social media. The response was so great that he helped launch WarOnCancer, a social network for cancer patients and relatives.
The original platform, which comprised of a 150-member strong blogging community who represented 40 types of cancer, highlighted the fact that most cancer patients suffer from low self-esteem and depression. With this insight, WarOnCancer is working with six partners in the pharmaceutical and broader life science industry to develop and test a new mobile app, which aims to become a global social network for cancer patients.
Scheduled to launch during 2019, the app will allow members to share their data and track how the industry uses this data in research. Through the power of Microsoft Azure, WarOnCancer can analyze this data to detect flaws and benefits experienced by different groups of patients depending on where, and how, they are treated.
“During my treatment and interactions with specialists, I was astounded to learn that almost half of clinical trials in oncology are delayed because it’s hard to find patients who meet the right criteria for that particular trial,” said Fabian. “Despite the vast majority of patients willing to share their data for clinical trials, many don’t know these are even taking place or aren’t properly informed how their data will be used. This disconnect can literally be the difference between finding a life-saving treatment or not.”
“The long-term goal is to build a ‘matchmaking’ type service for clinical trials and patients. This will increase the number of successful clinical trials, spearhead the pharmaceutical R&D-process, tailor treatment schedules and medication around a cancer patient’s needs, and ultimately save lives,” says Sebastian Hermelin, co-founder and head of WarOnCancer’s industry partnerships.
Helping doctors deliver early-detection, and increase precision and accuracy
The benefits of early cancer detection are clear. Not only does it result in a higher survival rate, but it helps minimize treatment side effects. While the process varies in every country, standard breast cancer screening typically occurs every two years and involves the mammography of women within a certain age bracket.
However, the effectiveness of mammography dramatically decreases when examining ‘dense’ breasts with a higher percentage of fibroglandular tissue. To address this challenge, the Veneto Institute of Oncology (IOV) is using a new breast density assessment tool from Volpara that has the potential to help millions of people. Leaping beyond the limits of a traditional mammogram, the cloud-based solution assesses images of a patient’s breast tissue, honing in on its density.
“Since dense breast tissue and lesions both appear white on X-rays, it is difficult to detect cancer in women with dense breasts. Moreover, it has been proven that women with dense breasts have higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with low breast density,” says Gisella Gennaro, Medical Physicist at the Venetian Institute of Oncology. “But now, through advanced image analysis, we can automatically and objectively assess women’s breast density, use it to estimate their risk of developing breast cancer, and provide them with personalized imaging protocols such as using ultrasound in the event that breast density hinders cancer detection.”
“Without advanced image computing, it would be impossible to get such fast and accurate analysis. Over the next five years, we plan to examine more than 10,000 women; see an increase in cancer detection rates; a decrease in interval cancers; and sustainable screening costs. It’s truly a step forward towards precision medicine,” says Francesca Caumo, Director of Breast Radiology Department at the Venetian Institute of Oncology.
Back in Stockholm, Fabian and his team are tireless in their mission to improve the lives for everyone affected by cancer. It has been almost four years since his initial diagnosis and the journey to date has been nothing short of courageous. Alongside first-rate treatment and family support, data has also proved a somewhat hidden helping hand.
Whether its researchers, clinicians or patients – together with cloud computing and AI – humanity’s war on cancer has never been as fierce.
For more information on how Data and AI are helping clinicians, researchers and patients to make healthcare more efficient, click here.