Cancer is one of the biggest scourges in medical history. Doctors cannot as yet realize their dreams of diagnosing the illness and starting treatment immediately, on the same day. But with the advances in technology there is a distinct possibility of being able to do so, with the help of big data by 2020

A study on cancer some 5-6 years ago, across 67 countries and covering 25.7 million people across demographic groups showed that cancer kills more people in low- and middle-income countries than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. A major reason is how much is invested in cancer care – this includes lack of facilities, poor medication and delayed or wrong diagnosis.

Households go bankrupt

The cost of treatment and care is catastrophic. Households go bankrupt and it places enormous burdens on health systems and public budgets. A large part of the problem stems from the lack of data to accurately predict, analyze and treat such illnesses. It is only when we have massive amounts of data –  behavioral, genetic, environmental, epigenetic, clinical, and more – that we can take the initial steps to effective cancer control.

The global health crisis is not limited to cancer – it covers mental health, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, diabetes, autism and many others apart from epidemics like Ebola and SARS which affected thousands of people worldwide. In recent years Big Data has been redefining the management of healthcare and may be the greatest weapon to wield in the global fight against illnesses. We have the volume of data and the analytical tools today, to exploit big data to our advantage.

Fair degree of medical experimentation

Very often treatment for cancer or other illnesses involve a fair degree of medical experimentation due to a lack of background data. But new technology using big data can gather and analyze the data on the response, prognosis, medication, treatment of other similar individuals, living in a similar condition, with a comparable form of the disease. This would help doctors diagnose faster and prescribe a course of treatment at the earliest which would increase the chances of recovery.

The introduction of big data into the process of managing healthcare will make a big difference in effectiveness to diagnosing and managing healthcare in the future. With the ability to analyze large data streams and multiple observation points, doctors now are able to understand diseases better and deliver accurate, personalized treatment. They are also able to predict recurrences and suggest preventive steps. The data is also helping doctors get a 360 degree view of the patient’s health. Today many organizations have begun to aggregate information in medical databases and share their research with other healthcare organizations, and, in some cases, with the very people who are the source of the data.

Open, cloud-based big data platform

The OHSU’s (Oregon Health & Science University ) Knight Cancer Institute is working on a largely open, cloud-based big data platform to analyze huge amounts of genomic, imaging and clinical data, sharing anonymized information with other institutions to get a total picture of different types of cancer, its progress and diagnosis. Parts of the key collaborative components are being made open source so that others can benefit from their efforts. Advances in precision medicine which takes different aspects of the person into consideration viz details of the disease, genes, environment, lifestyle etc will thus be less experimental and more focused and targeted on the individual.

Big data is already producing research that has helped patients in any countries. It now behoves the rest to understand and use the benefits of big data to diagnose and treat previously undiagnosed and untreatable diseases.