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Can big data help fight cancer?

Posting in Cancer

Big data is transforming how we understand the world around us. It can track the flu, help businesses understand how workers work or shoppers shop. But now it's also being used for a much bigger task: the fight against cancer.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has developed CancerLinQ, a prototype for a new tool to help physicians care for cancer patients using data from the treatments of other cancer patients. Why? Because before, information was not readily available or easy to analyse to make useful decisions to treat patients.

“Today we know very little about the experiences of most people with cancer because their information is locked away in unconnected servers and paper files,” said Sandra Swain, President of ASCO, in a statement. “Only the 3 percent of patients who participate in clinical trials are able to contribute to advances in treatment.  CancerLinQ will transform cancer care by unlocking that wealth of information and enabling every patient to be a cancer knowledge donor.”

This new network will analyze millions of doctor visits by cancer patients along with "expert guidelines" to provide physicians with real-time, personalized guidance on the best ways to treat patients.

“In the oncology community, the big data transformation of healthcare is well under way,” said Lynn Etheredge, of George Washington University, in a statement. “The future of our healthcare system hinges on the success of initiatives like this – and on the willingness of healthcare providers, payers and policymakers to support their implementation.”

For now this prototype network will include anonymous data from 133,000 cases of cancer treatment across the United States. ASCO plans to publish its findings about the pilot project in the next year. And the Wall Street Journal reports that it will be more than a year until the first components of CancerLinQ will be available for doctors to use.

— By on March 27, 2013, 6:08 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure