Cancer is a complex and uncontrollable beast that mutates and changes the goalposts before you get into the politics and economics surrounding the issue. There isn’t just one cancer either – the homogenous term is misleading into thinking the problem is even solvable.

SwissCognitiveScientists and technologists alike are seeing hope though – not through increased funding but technological advancement in the form of Artificial Intelligence. Recently attending CogX – one of the more robust and significant AI conferences in the UK – healthcare was very much on the menu. Medicine is already benefitting greatly from machine learning (a subset of AI) in areas from diagnosis to treatment, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. As more and more data becomes available – along with better computers and science – we start to see a shift happening.

“Guilty Doctors” according to Professor Joanna Holbrook, Director Translational Biology, BenevolentAI, are now up against a “humanly impossible amount of data anyone to keep up with all the new science and findings in their chosen field. We need AI to do this…how we build trust may mean retrospective studies.”

Computers are fast becoming better (or are already better) at diagnosing ailments like Alzheimer’s, Pneumonia, skin cancer and eye diseases…and the list keeps getting longer. Does this mean you should stop going to your doctor and just ask Alexa? The short answer is ‘No’. While science and the media battle it is up to organisations and regulatory bodies like the NHS, MHRA and FDA (in the US) to concur tests are valid and them implement these into hospitals etc. The cost-savings will be enormous but there are other elements to consider like retraining and larger issues such as what do doctors become if machines are better at diagnosis? The FDA, in fact, have just down-regulated AI to ‘class ii’ which means ‘it won’t kill you’ according to panellists.

Dr Jack Kriendler Founder, Centre for Health and Human Performance is bullish on the technology and already trusts it more than human doctors; “I would sooner today trust computer scientists and data scientists to tell me how to treat a really complex system like cancer than my fellow oncologists. I would not have said that two to three years ago. The regulatory bodies think very, very differently to that.”

Despite billions pouring in to fight the disease, we’ve barely made a dent into furthering life although targeted therapies are causing fewer side effects compared with chemotherapeutic and radiation approaches. While the world would undoubtedly be better off without cancer, big pharma would not, they stand to lose billions when it is ‘cured’. How many billion? Numbers vary but in 2015 the spending on cancer medicines was around $107 billion worldwide, according to data from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, and this number will swell to $150 billion in 2020. […]