Big Data in Oncology

Big Data and cancer has been a hot topic for a few years and for good reason. Effectively diagnosing and treating patients with cancer is extremely important.  In 2015, Forbes had an Interesting article titled How Big Data Is Transforming the Fight Against Cancer. In the article, they talked about the fight against cancer and how Big Data is being put to use in many ways to aid the task of improving care, identifying risks and hopefully eventually producing cures.

One such project is the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) CancerLinQ initiative, which aims to collate data from every cancer patient in the US and make it available for analysis in the hope that it will reveal patterns that lead to new insights. This could be useful for doctors providing treatment -- accessing up-to-date information on how thousands of others have reacted to a proposed treatment plan will enable them to tailor treatments to individual patients and provide the best chance of a positive outcome.

In April of 2016, Modern Healthcare published an article titled Big Data Yield New Hopes, Challenges in Cancer Care. This article mentioned with the explosion of cancer genomic data prompted the White House to launch Cancer Moonshot, a billion-dollar effort led by former Vice President Joe Biden to “eliminate cancer as we know it” and “make a decade worth of advances in five years.” But while scientists are enthusiastic about their increased capabilities to make progress in the fight against what one author has called “the emperor of all maladies”—cancer now rivals heart disease as America's No. 1 killer with 589,000 deaths a year—the breadth and depth of the data being generated are posing as an enormous challenge for researchers, oncologists, and patients.

The data are complicated to understand, and the process for data collection is unstructured, decentralized, and some argue, only gathered in silos. Much of what is collected remains unanalyzed because there is little consensus on the best ways to pursue data-driven research. Indeed, the current wave of optimism about new discoveries that could lead to cures might ultimately be pulled out to sea by an undercurrent of unanswered questions.

The author also reached out to ASCO. CancerLinQ officially rolled out in June 2015 with 15 participating oncology practices. While ASCO received more than 190 inquiries from groups wanting to participate, a spokesperson told Modern Healthcare that so far only 40 have signed contracts to join. They cite patient-privacy concerns and difficulties with the technical interface. They also worry about the workload required to input all the data.

Big Data is extremely important to improving and understanding cancer treatments and the disease itself. But with data being stored in unstructured forms, coming from multiple institutions and many times in non-interfaced locations, how can you gather all of that? Extract can help. Data capture is our passion. It does not matter where it comes from, where it is going, we can find the necessary pieces of information and get them to the proper location. Big Data could lead to massive innovations in understanding cancer, as long as you have the correct data in the proper place. Extract can help.

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About the Author: Arik Grundahl

Arik Grundahl is the Sales Development Director at Extract Systems and specializes in Salesforce monitoring and database maintenance. Arik obtained his MBA in 2012 and has been with Extract Systems for two years. Working in Sales Development and Marketing, Arik is focused on providing information about Extract’s advanced data capture and redaction solutions.