Can Big Data Analytics Help Cure Cancer?

Christine Donato

In 2015, about 589,430 Americans are expected to die of cancer. That’s roughly 1,620 people per day. Each instance of cancer is unique, and the treatment that may save one patient may not work for another. It is imperative, therefore, to be as precise and data-driven as possible when treating the disease.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a non-profit, world-leading, professional organization of oncologists, is on the brink of translating huge amounts of raw cancer data into knowledge that can be applied to best help future patients.

Currently, the volume of existing data on cancer research and specific patients is immense. Cancer is attributed to one out of every four deaths in the United States alone, so to analyze and compare each specific instance of the disease seems impossible.

At the SAP Personalized Medicine Symposium in Palo Alto, Calif., on October 14, Peter Paul Yu, MD, FACP, FASCO, and immediate past president of ASCO, spoke to the importance of being able to access, search, and utilize all of the information that can help stop this often fatal disease.

The Human Genome

Only 3% of the 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials. Dr. Yu explained that most patients are on average older, less healthy, and more diverse than clinical trial patients.

During the Symposium, Dr. Yu explained that health IT promises to be an agent of change, accelerating learning, reducing healthcare costs, and engaging the health ecosystem of patients and families, researchers, payers, and regulators. He also explained how ASCO’s CancerLinQ, a rapid learning health system for oncology, can lead this effort.

CancerLinQ runs on the SAP HANA platform and uses Big Data analytics to unlock real-world patient data from electronic health records (EHRs). Each stage of CancerLinQ will deliver more-powerful tools and insights to physicians, researchers, patients, and others in the cancer community by:

  • Monitoring clinical quality measures in real time and continually tracking performance to prospectively improve the quality of care;
  • Considering trends that could improve care and gaining insights from de-identified data on thousands of patients;
  • Identifying groups of anonymous patients with shared characteristics, making it possible for physicians to understand how other patients similar to theirs were treated; and
  • Making better use of EHRs by creating, for example, a personalized patient timeline that provides a visual snapshot of a patient’s treatments, side effects, and outcomes.

Yu also explained that, in its current state, interoperability is a key challenge in the healthcare industry. He quoted the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology by sharing this statement:

“An interoperable health IT ecosystem makes the right data available to the right people at the right time across products and organizations in a way that can be meaningfully used by recipients.”

Yu shared ASCO’s recommendations to improve health IT with the following suggestions in his presentation:

  1. Congressional action, including adoption of language in 21st Century Cures re: adoption of interoperability standards and enforcing rules that prevent information blocking;
  1. Educate healthcare providers and vendors regarding contractual provisions and activities that are considered counterproductive to widespread interoperability;
  1. Ensure that patients, oncologists, and other providers do not bear the costs of achieving interoperable EHRs and of companies refraining from info blocking;
  1. Enable coordination and parallel work among federal agencies’ care to ensure healthcare providers have necessary information in selecting health IT systems.

Currently, entire EHR data on all patients from oncology practices in the United States is being uploaded into the CancerLinQ platform. The goal is for the first version of CancerLinQ to be used by practices in 2016.

Learn more about how to innovate and collaborate at scale by listening to Knowledge Networks: Productivity and Human Connections.

Follow me on Twitter @Cmdonato and on LinkedIn.

This blog originally appeared on SCN in SAP Business Trends.


About Christine Donato

Christine Donato is a Senior Integrated Marketing Specialist at SAP. She is an accomplished project manager and leader of multiple marketing and sales enablement campaigns and events, that supported a multi million euro business.