Breast cancer has overtaken lung cancer, as the most commonly diagnosed cancer across the globe. It is also the most prevalent form of cancer, with 7.8 million women surviving with the disease. The World Health Organization’s data indicates that 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020 alone, and about 685,000 women lost their lives to this disease that year.
With staggering statistics like these, it is but natural that a host of efforts globally have focused on breast cancer for decades. Several technology solutions have emerged as a result, to help tackle the challenges involved with this disease. This is an attempt to identify some of the solutions, to help improve awareness of not just the disease, but also of the myriad solutions available, this #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth.
Prophylaxis: Screening for Breast Cancer
One of the biggest issues for breast cancer diagnosis is getting women to get themselves screened. While the developed world has, clinical protocols, and reimbursements enabling periodic screening, majority of the world does not see similar successes. To improve compliance to the recommended schedule for getting mammography, Whiterabbit uses artificial intelligence (AI) to develop personalized outreach strategies. On the other hand, Geisinger Health had rolled out mammography services as part of their Mobile Care Gap unit, pre-pandemic. The aim was to address equity issues, and to serve as a reminder to get screened. Newer technology solutions take a different approach, considering cultural differences in the emerging markets. Nirmai Health Analytix leverages thermal imagery backed by AI, but taking the solution to the women across India, helping them get screened in complete privacy, with a contactless process. The radiation-free technology also recently received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance recently. Another unique approach is taken by Braster, which allows women to screen themselves at home, using an in-home breast examination device. Very similar in approach, is the Dotplot, which won the 2022 James Dyson Award. And finally, something still in development, but a past recipient of the James Dyson Award itself, is The Blue Box, which only requires a urine sample for women to conduct a home breast cancer diagnostics test. On similar lines, is the Auria approach by Namida Lab, which uses tear drops instead to identify biomarkers and assess risk of developing breast cancer in women aged 33-85.
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
With high incidence comes the need for more screening, which also means high workloads for an already overwhelmed workforce that suffers from shortages. Luckily, image-based AI comes to the rescue in this case with solutions to help radiologists make the right decisions. Screenpoint Medical’s Transpara can help reduce their workloads by up to 70%. From triaging solutions such as Miatriage by Kheiron Medical, to detection solutions like that of DeepHealth, to solutions such as Therapixel (with Ferrum Health partnership) making the second reading process more efficient, or even solutions such as Aiforia to help with diagnosis using digital pathology biomarkers – AI is transforming almost every aspect of the breast cancer mammography imaging process.
Even post-diagnosis, several unmet needs of breast cancer care are being addressed by technology. For clinicians, there is Olkin AI, which recently secured European regulatory clearances for its Owkin Dx RlapsRisk BC AI technology to help assess the risk of a relapse using digital pathology. Last year, Ibex’s Galen Breast AI tech secured CE approval as well, to help distinguish between different forms of breast cancer, also using digital pathology images. Even more interesting, perhaps, is the approach taken by the Egyptian non-profit Baheya Foundation in partnership with GE Healthcare. It aims to also leverage AI, to help assess patients’ response to treatment (neoadjuvant therapy).
For patients themselves, the French company WeFight’s virtual companion, Vik, is helping with patient education of breast cancer (among other diseases). To improve access to latest research in breast cancer treatments, Outcomes4Me is helping breast cancer patients with enabling information and access to latest treatments, medical literature, and clinical trials, leveraging AI to tweak responses based on their inputs about their diagnoses. Somewhat similar is the approach taken by Sidekick Health in partnering with Eli Lilly, to build a digital therapeutic for addressing the psychosocial impact of breast cancer on patients undergoing treatment. A non-AI related technology helping women is India’s Prayasta – a 3D printed implants and prostheses maker, that helps provide customized implants for women who have undergone mastectomy.
Technology-based solutions are the key to address breast cancer challenges, and though these solutions are in their infancy, they are likely to make a huge impact on the overall cancer landscape in the coming years. Which ones are you watching out for—which ones have you been recommended to try, and which ones will you bank on to save you if and when the situation arises?