Can search engine data save lives from pancreatic cancer?

Gerd Gigerenzer discusses how search engines use big data analytics to “diagnose” your state of health | BMJ Opinion

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Image source: NIH Image Gallery – Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Image shows pancreatic desmoplasia. Pancreatic cancer is associated with a vast desmoplastic reaction in which the connective tissue around the tumor thickens and scars. 

Imagine this warning popping up on your search engine page: “Attention! There are signs that you might have pancreatic cancer. Please visit your doctor immediately.” Just as search engines use big data analytics to detect your book and music preferences, they may also “diagnose” your state of health.

Microsoft researchers have claimed that web search queries could predict pancreatic adenocarcinoma. A retrospective study of 6.4 million users of Microsoft’s search engine Bing identified first-person queries suggestive of a recent diagnosis, such as “I was told I have pancreatic cancer, what to expect.” Then the researchers went back months before these queries were made and looked for earlier ones indicating symptoms or risk factors, such as blood clots and unexplained weight loss. They concluded that their statistical classifiers “can identify 5% to 15% of cases, while preserving extremely low false-positive rates (0.00001 to 0.0001)”, and that “this screening capability could increase 5-year survival.” The New York Times reported: “The study suggests that early screening can increase the five-year survival rate of pancreatic patients to 5 to 7 percent, from just 3 percent.”

Read the full blog post here

Prescription history could help GPs diagnose cancer earlier

“We want to develop a tool that helps GPs diagnose cancer earlier in the hope of saving more lives.”– Dr Jem Rashbass 

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Cancer Research UK-funded scientists are to examine whether identifying patterns in medication given to patients before they develop cancer could improve early diagnosis.

Looking for patterns in prescriptions and other data could help guide GP referrals, especially in patients with non-specific symptoms that don’t obviously indicate cancer.

Only about half of those with the most common cancers have “red-flag” symptoms. And this is even lower in cancers with poor survival rates such as pancreatic, stomach, ovarian and brain cancer.

This research is being led by Health Data Insight which has received funding through Cancer Research UK’s Pioneer Awards scheme. Together with Public Health England and the NHS Business Services Authority they have created an anonymous dataset of nearly all the primary care prescription data – approximately 80 million medications being prescribed each month.

The researchers will then link this information to data in the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service to look for trends in medications given to patients before they were diagnosed with cancer.

Read more at Cancer Research UK

Cheap blood test could boost prostate cancer treatment

A cheap genetic test costing less than £50 has been developed that could help target treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer and help offset side effects from ineffective treatments | OnMedica

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Cancer researchers across Europe, including doctors from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, analysed blood from 265 men with the disease and found those with multiple copies of a particular gene did not respond to abiraterone and enzalutamide – drugs commonly used to treat advanced cases.

About 46,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK every year, one in four of them at an advanced stage. For the study,* published in the journal Annals of Oncology, scientists took blood samples from patients taking part in three different clinical trials.

The team says that more trials are needed but they hope the test could prevent thousands of men undergoing unnecessary treatment and allow more personalised care. The drugs abiraterone and enzalutamide are given to men whose cancer is no longer responding to traditional hormone therapy and has started to spread.

Read the full commentary via OnMedica here

Read the full original research article here

 

Guide to cancer early diagnosis

This WHO Guide to cancer early diagnosis aims to help policy-makers and programme managers facilitate timely diagnosis and improve access to cancer treatment for all | WHO

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Image source: WHO

Detecting cancer early can effectively reduce the mortality associated with cancer.In resource-poor settings, cancer is often diagnosed at a late-stage of disease resulting in lower survival and potentially greater morbidity and higher costs of treatment. Even in countries with strong health systems and services, many cancer cases are diagnosed at a late-stage. Addressing delays in cancer diagnosis and inaccessible treatment is therefore critical in all settings for cancer control.

Early diagnosis strategies improve cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and are therefore an important public health strategy in all settings. The barriers that delay cancer diagnosis must first be identified and assessed, and these factors may originate from patients to carers to health systems. Effective programmes can then be implemented at various levels that include community engagement to address patient behaviour, improving diagnostic and referral capacity and ensuring access to timely, high-quality treatment.

Read the full report here

Cancer diagnosis in GP surgeries

Better GP access to cancer diagnostic tools would benefit doctors and patients, says RCGP |via OnMedica

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The Royal College of GPs has welcomed a £5 million grant aimed at giving GPs better access to cancer diagnostic tools. Cancer Research UK (CRUK), which is funding the research project, said having more effective ways to diagnose cancer in GP surgeries would save both doctors’ and patients’ time, and reduce anxiety for patients.

The charity announced its £5 million funding for the “revolutionary” CanTest project as part of its Catalyst Award, which it said “aims to help researchers from around the world deliver trailblazing progress in their field with long-lasting results”. CanTest will investigate and develop new ways for GPs, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners to diagnose cancer in GP surgeries. It will assess the accuracy, cost effectiveness and suitability of a range of diagnostic methods and tools, with the aim of cutting both the wait for diagnosis and the number of referrals.

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Artificial Intelligence & Digital Diagnosis

How artificial intelligence could provide some respite for the NHS | The Conversation

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Earlier this month, the  NHS announced plans to trial an artificially intelligent mobile health app to a million people in London. The aim is to help diagnose and treat patients by engaging them in a real time text message conversation which will complement the NHS 111 phone based service.

The NHS app is simple to use and has been likened to using the social messaging service WhatsApp – but with one crucial difference: the conversation takes place with a computer, not a person. Once the app is downloaded, users log their basic health information, and then start explaining their symptoms. The robotic “responder” will say things like: “I just need a few details from you before we get started,” and “nearly there” to keep the conversation going.

Read more via The Conversation

 

How well are the diagnosis and symptoms of dementia recorded in older patients admitted to hospital?

Crowther, G.J.E. et al. Age & Ageing. Published online: September 10 2016

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Image source: Stephen Magrath – Wellcome Images // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Introduction: in the United Kingdom dementia is generally diagnosed by mental health services. General hospitals are managed by separate healthcare trusts and the handover of clinical information between organisations is potentially unreliable. Around 40% of older people admitted to hospital have dementia. This group have a high prevalence of psychological symptoms and delirium. If the dementia diagnosis or symptoms are not recognised, patients may suffer unnecessarily with resulting negative outcomes.

Discussion: this work suggests an under reporting of dementia and symptoms associated with it in the general hospital. Improving this requires closer collaboration between metal health and hospital healthcare services and training for staff on how to access diagnostic information and recognise common psychological symptoms.

Read the full article here