Over the past few weeks I’ve written several articles on the good and bad of artificial intelligence. On the good side there are projects that make our lives easier; on the bad, there are things that could end our lives. But possibly the most useful of all artificial intelligence applications is what IBM Watson and Google DeepMind are doing in the area of oncology, or cancer treatment.

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How Prevalent is Breast Cancer?

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012. There’s no recent data on this, but it is known that “the highest incidence of breast cancer was in Northern America and Oceania; and the lowest incidence in Asia and Africa.”

One of the things IBM Watson helps with is to research everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – ever published on a single type of cancer, compare it with medical images and test results for a particular patient with breast cancer, and recommend the best course of treatment. It even suggest the best clinical trials that the patient can go on that has the highest probability of success.

This capability saves doctors and medical technicians hours of research before they can recommend the best treatment for a patient.

Other Cancers and Diseases

Google DeepMind, on the other hand, is focusing on head and neck cancers, which typically take hours of preparation before technicians can prepare a “map” of where radiotherapy can be applied. This prevents any damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Another are that DeepMind is working on is diagnosing eye diseases using retinal scan images. It works very similar to IBM Watson in that it will compare the patient’s retinal scans with millions of anonymized images from other patients with all types of eye diseases to find the best match.

Implications for Healthcare

When I interviewed IBM’s Deborah DiSanzo a couple of months ago, she indicated that there was $800 BILLION being wasted in the healthcare segment. Much of this waste is in the form of labor-intensive tasks, unnecessary tests and so on.

The purpose of IBM Watson Health is to not only help reduce this wastage, but also make it easier for doctors to go through billions of medical images and accurately diagnose a patient’s condition. But Watson goes one step further and even recommends the best type of treatment, and that includes any current clinical trials being conducted by pharmaceutical companies.

At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Assistant Professor of Leukemia Dr. Courtney DiNardo uses IBM's Watson cognitive system while consulting with patient Rich Ware, on October 18, 2013. Starting with the fight against Leukemia, IBM's Watson will help MD Anderson physicians develop, observe and fine tune cancer treatment plans, match patients with clinical trials and recognize adverse effects during ongoing care. (Feature Photo Service)
At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Assistant Professor of Leukemia Dr. Courtney DiNardo uses IBM’s Watson cognitive system while consulting with patient Rich Ware, on October 18, 2013. Starting with the fight against Leukemia, IBM’s Watson will help MD Anderson physicians develop, observe and fine tune cancer treatment plans, match patients with clinical trials and recognize adverse effects during ongoing care. (Feature Photo Service)

Cost and time savings aside, the introduction of artificial intelligence in the healthcare segment will contribute immensely to the accuracy of diagnosis and identifying the right treatment for a particular disease.

Artificial intelligence is already permeating our daily lives in ways we don’t even realize, but this is one of the applications that I feel will change the way the entire healthcare system works. More on that soon, so watch this space.

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