The digital future of oncology
Imagine for a moment that we are in the year 2030, looking at yourself in your bathroom smart mirror. You hear a beep, a warning notification flashes up advising you that the mole on your chin should be assessed by a dermatologist. To be expected, since your genetic test showed you possess a mutation of the CDKN2A gene. In addition, you receive a recommendation from your smart scale to have your stomach and esophagus assessed since you have noticeably dropped in weight, and this mutation carries a greater risk of GI tract cancer.
With such early-stage diagnosis approaches and increased awareness, perhaps we will see a decline in the cancer death rate when we hit 2030. So, what will oncology look like for both patients and physicians in the future?
Diagnosis at home
Now you know about these risks, you take a photograph of the mole, close up, and send it to your dermatologist for further analysis. Then, you use a telemedicine provider to ask about preventative measures concerning your GI tract.
You have a family history of this cancer, and given this background, your doctor needs to analyse your GI tract before forming a conclusion visually. So, she goes ahead and prescribes you the PillCam, the very latest, high-resolution, tiny camera that takes images and recordings in real-time as it travels through your GI tract after being ingested.
But this is 2030, so the new version of the PillCam even takes biopsy samples as it travels through the system. Once it has passed through, you send it, along with a fecal sample, to the doctor. And all in the comfort of your own home. You pay for the PillCam online, it is then delivered to your home by drone, and you send the samples back the next day, via drone.
The ease of quality healthcare with remote access along with a better internet infrastructure and improving technologies will be a major highlight for oncology’s future. People can take genetic tests at home with kits like the Atlas Biomed and Dante Labs. They simply order their kit, return their saliva sample back to be analysed, and receive their results within just a few weeks.
With methods like smart mirrors and increased access to medicine, even remote areas of the world can benefit from earlier detection of cancerous symptoms. Some of the tests will be able to identify medication side-effects, which is essential for cancer patients who are taking a lot of medication. Oncologists will have to train and enhance their skills to be able to deal with this data when patients bring it to the point-of-care.
Individual cancer treatments
The results are returned to you a few days later. In the best-case situation, your gastroenterologist tells you there’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps you were just stressing out a bit about your sister’s wedding, and that’s why you weren’t eating properly. He recommends taking another PillCam assessment in a few months’ time. Your dermatologist recommends you keep an eye on the new mole and contact her if you see any changes to it.
If the results aren’t as promising, then you will need to undergo therapy. But, cancer treatment isn’t an easy process. The actual condition depends on various factors like malignancy potential, the extent of progression, and the origin, among others. So, oncologists must factor in those circumstances to be able to make appropriate treatment plans.
Will Stahl-Timmins, an interactive data visualization designer, demonstrates how complex oncology is in the article he wrote for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Now that we have genome analysis, medicine will be able to be individualized and tailored to the patient’s genetic makeup and specific condition.
Companies such as BioNTech and Foundation Medicine are already working on these possibilities. The aim is that each patient will receive a tailor-made product just for them.
Treating the cancer isn’t the end of the story, though, many follow-up appointments will be needed to ensure the treatment is effective, prevent relapses, and assess any side-effects. Chemotherapy patients can already detect severe neutropenia from their own homes ever now, thanks to portable non-invasive devices that measure the blood cell count.
Chronic pain can be controlled using a wearable, such as Quell. And the digestive PillCam can be used for GI checkups. With the advancements in these remote check-up options, coping with cancer should be easier than if the patient needed to go to the hospital for check-ups. They can be surrounded by loved ones at home instead.
Oncologists of the future and their tech-fueled profession
Physicians in this field will see a big change. As well as telemedicine for consultations and follow-ups, there will be access to more reliable smart devices and technologies. Oncologists will be able to focus on the more critical tasks at hand.
In time, bigger and more varied healthcare databases will be able to deliver more reliable AI-based analysis. Software requiring facial recognition will also be available. AI-based medical decision making will have more of a role in oncology than before, and we will see more advanced medical techniques.
AI is already being used in oncology, such as evaluating thyroid nodules, identifying metastatic breast cancer, and detecting cancer.
For those cases that need surgery, a human surgeon will most likely be assisted by a robot. It was forecast by Allied Market research that robots in surgical settings will have doubled its 2017 number by 2024. Da Vince and other competitors like Medtronic ’s Hugo and CMR Surgical ’s Versius have already made precision surgery a reality. We should start to see these robots more widely available in hospitals in the near future.
All of these predictions are based on existing technologies and current trends, with slight extrapolation. The oncology field of the future looks exciting for doctors and patients alike; we must welcome this newfound technology and make a better future for medicine.