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Intelligent Cancer Care:  From High-Tech to High Impact

June 29, 2020

Intelligent Cancer Care: From High-Tech to High Impact

What will cancer care look like in the future?  Will we be living in a world without fear of cancer? We are convinced that we will, and that furthermore, this will be the case regardless of where in the world we live.  The question is: How can we get there? At Varian we provide cancer treatment technology and services around the world, which focus on developments that have the potential to expand the availability of high-quality cancer care globally, in order to achieve our vision of a world without fear of cancer.

But what does this mean concretely? Travel with us into that future—to 2045. Imagine a patient who has been diagnosed with a very early stage cancer based on a simple—and therefore easily accessible–blood test. This cancer is caught long before the patient experienced a single physical symptom. The patient’s prognosis, therefore, is excellent.

The patient’s journey now continues with their Multidisciplinary Cancer Care Team (MDT). The primary care physician is part of this team, and the other members are geographically disbursed and linked together through virtual collaboration tools that enable real-time and asynchronous consultation. This way, the team can include experts from anywhere in the world.

The MDT members have access, thanks to judicious application of artificial intelligence, to vast reams of data on treatment outcomes. They are also armed with specific, personal information about the genomics at play—i.e. abnormalities in the patient’s genes that point toward a particular treatment approach over other options.

Using all these inputs, the MDT puts together a comprehensive roadmap showing all the possible personalized treatment options. With all the available treatment options clearly delineated, the team works with the patient to create a personalized treatment plan that best fits that patient’s specific situation both anatomically and biologically.

Let’s further imagine that the patient and their MDT determine that the treatment will include a course of radiation therapy.  By that time—some 25 years in the future—radiation therapy technology will be much more widely accessible.  Even today, Varian’s latest radiation therapy systems are greatly simplified, automated, and enhanced in ways that make them easier to acquire, install, service, and operate, all with an eye towards expanding access to care around the world.  The accessibility of cancer care is a trend that will continue, as population demographics globally shift, and governments continue to build infrastructure to care for people through direct public investment or public/private partnerships.

If our patient of the future happens to live in a region where the medical physics expertise for radiation therapy is insufficient, as we continue to work with medical professionals to build up local capacity, we will be able to augment local resources with remote technology-enabled services encompassing physics, dosimetry and other important functions.  This will not only mean greater access to capable skillsets, but it will also drive consistency, quality, and simplicity in world class care.

How does such a far-flung network of care providers stay in close touch with the patient? Via web-based remote patient monitoring and electronic communication applications that report symptoms in real time and that communicate with members of the care team.

This vision of the future brings together several important converging trends—trends that we believe will usher in an era when cancer is no longer to be feared because we will know so much more about it, we will have the means for using that knowledge to cancer patients’ benefit, and care will be more accessible around the world. These trends are:

  • Early detection and diagnosis: The earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcomes can be. Detection will continue to happen earlier and earlier, based on very sensitive blood tests that reveal cancer long before there are any symptoms.
  • Better treatments: Clinical teams in every city and country will be armed with vast amounts of information from around the world, and artificial intelligence tools will help them glean insights from the data. New multi-modal therapies that are personalized for the patient will continue to emerge. And from decades of outcomes data to specific information about a single patient’s genetic vulnerabilities, the data will be aggregated, interpreted, and turned into actionable knowledge, all in a virtuous cycle that will only create more benefit for future generations.
  • Survivorship: Cancer will become a chronic managed disease in the future, and patients will need to stay even closer to care providers to monitor it. Patients will experience new digital tools that allow them, with the click of a button, to connect with care teams they previously would have visited in person, removing many of today’s barriers to keeping up with their ongoing follow-up care.

The exciting aspect of this vision of the future is that many of the elements are already in place, with remote services at the forefront of how we are delivering care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are very confident this vision can be a reality.   And we can commit to you that at Varian, we are rapidly developing solutions in each of these three areas to do our part in creating a world without fear of cancer.

Cancer touches us all, and so we must work together across sectors to tear down any walls that separate patients from progress. We are writing this blog post on behalf of Varian, a proud industry partner to many international non-profit initiatives that foster cooperation, collaboration, and innovation. And we certainly take pride in our partnership with City Cancer Challenge (C/Can). C/Can is working with cities in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia to ensure that current types of innovative practices, which have been employed to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be further extended to enhance access to care at all times. We are committed to the C/Can mission of supporting cities around the world as they work to improve access to equitable, quality cancer care and help those cities thrive in a world without the fear of cancer.

We invite you to learn more about the City Of Tomorrow campaign C/Can is driving this year, inviting cities in low- and middle-income countries to join its network in tackling the world’s growing cancer burden. The next global call for application will be open in October. For more information, you can visit the City of Tomorrow website.

Kolleen T. Kennedy
President, Proton Solutions and Chief Growth Officer
Varian Medical Systems

Christopher A. Toth
President, Oncology Systems
Varian Medical Systems