Cancer experts detail how ‘big data’ plays a critical role in improving clinical decision-making in oncology treatments at 3rd ESTRO forum

More than 500 oncology professionals hear of advances in knowledge-based applications and optimization of imaging data at ‘Knowledge is Power’ symposium hosted by Varian Medical Systems.

Cancer experts have reported how a Varian Medical Systems supported project in the area of distributed learning is helping to harness the power of “big data” for the benefit of patients. Speakers at a Varian-hosted symposium at the 3rd European Society for Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ESTRO) forum in Barcelona detailed the importance of gaining knowledge from each treatment and applying that knowledge to help benefit the next patient.

With only about 3 percent of all cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials, ‘big data’ offers the opportunity to potentially pool and analyze all treatment information, helping to better understand cancer and customize care for the individual patient. By identifying outcomes versus cost of treatment, it can also help to determine the best value treatments.

“The idea behind using ‘big data’ is to make sure we learn new knowledge from every patient we have ever treated and apply that knowledge for the next patient,” said Andre Dekker, PhD, from the MAASTRO Clinic in Maastricht, Netherlands. “The problem is that there is an overload of data to process which is beyond human capabilities to analyze. Working with Varian’s expertise in knowledge-based learning systems, our team is building a distributed learning system to overcome current barriers to sharing.”

Andre Dekker gave examples of such learning systems in practice, including collaboration where a treatment model learned in the Netherlands is improving treatments in Australian hospitals. “We are gaining tremendously valuable knowledge in the Netherlands that changes the way radiotherapy patients are treated in Australia today,” he said.

Professor Vincenzo Valentini, MD, from Gemelli Advanced Radiation Therapy (ART) in Rome, Italy, explained the importance of learning from clinical data. “In radiation oncology we have the opportunity to learn both through clinical trials and through data mining,” said Prof. Valentini. “We have our daily practice stored on computer systems and this enables us to learn rapidly and implement greater knowledge in all our systems.”

Tim Fox, formerly Head of Radiotherapy Physics at Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta and now working at Varian Medical Systems, presented on knowledge gained from image data using the Velocity system, which can create a map of all imaging and treatment information, integrating it into a comprehensive and powerful dashboard to help clinical teams make more confident decisions. “This allows historically unconnected data from different systems, in different points of time, and in different positions to be transformed into clinical knowledge,” said Dr. Fox. “Combining this powerful data with seamless integration into a department’s IT infrastructure can help optimize productivity and efficiency.”

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