The role of data in combatting cancer

Eline Lincklaen Arriëns

Globally, cancer is recognised as the second leading cause of death. To continue combatting the disease, the European Commission presented irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Europe's Beating Cancer Plan was presented on World Cancer Day, 4 February 2021.

This article delves into what the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is, and the role data plays in supporting the fight against the disease.

The European Commission’s new cancer plan is labelled as a key priority of the von der Leyen Commission and a cornerstone of the strong European Health Union ambition. By using the fundamental ideas of data sharing and new technologies such as, artificial intelligence (AI), and research and innovation as a basis, the plan lays the foundation for a new EU approach to cancer prevention, treatment, and care.

The plan has four key action areas: prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and improving quality of life. To achieve these, there will be a focus on improving medication quality, and the role of data and digitisation in cancer prevention and care. The new strategy states that 30% of the world’s stored data are produced by health care systems; however, the health sector is currently not unlocking the untapped potential. If we are successful in collecting, using, and sharing this 30% of data, researchers and medical professionals can use tools such as AI and high-performance computing to save lives and improve the quality of those currently suffering from the disease. An example is electronic health records. With access to these records, oncologists, radiologists, and surgeons can efficiently share data and improve the patient’s treatment and survival chances.

To enable stakeholders in accessing this data, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan includes a commitment towards promoting sharing anonymised data and to create a network of 27 national cancer centres across Europe. This will be complemented by other initiatives centred around data sharing, including the Cancer Diagnostic and Treatment for All initiative to drive investment into sequencing of tumour cells.

As someone who’s known others that have gone through and are still fighting cancer, an ambitious plan to address the disease is welcome. That there is available data that is being unused or is unavailable for whatever reason that could literally save someone’s life or improve their quality of life feels wrong and like an insult to the family and friends involved. Bluntly put, and repeatedly said, publishing and sharing data could save lives.

Image credit:
Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash, 2020

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