How Microsoft’s Big Data Research Could Lead to New Ways of Diagnosing Cancer

The quickest way to hone in on who is suffering from certain forms of cancer might be by analyzing data from internet searches. Scientists at Microsoft have shown that an analysis of search engine queries suggest that it’s possible to identify internet users suffering from pancreatic cancer. The research, which the Microsoft scientists published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, offer another example of how big data could transform health care.

The scientists basically studied millions of anonymous searches conducted on Microsoft’s search engine, Bing. Among the queries they looked for were “Why did I get cancer in pancreas” and “Just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” according to NPR. The scientists then worked backward, seeking queries consistent with pancreatic cancer symptoms. With that information, the scientists created a statistical model that they claimed could predict between 5 and 15 percent of the ultimate pancreatic cancer diagnoses by looking at the initial symptom searches, NPR explained.

Early detection is particularly important in pancreatic cancer because survival rates for patients is low – just 3 percent – within the first five years of its diagnosis. The Microsoft study suggests that detecting this cancer early can increase the five-year survival rate to 5 to 7 percent, according to The New York Times.

The research is still early, and needs more testing and fine-tuning. The scientists concede as much, writing in the Journal of Oncology Practice that it would need clinical trials to validate the technology, along with a study in combination with other diagnostic approaches.

The amount of data that our interconnected world produces is on a steady upward trajectory, and much of that data is in health care. As technology marches in step with the growth in big data, science is finding more ways to analyze that data. Analytics has not yet revealed a cure for cancer. But looking for new cancer diagnostic tools, as the Microsoft researchers are aiming to do, would be a good first step.

To learn more ways your organization can utilize big data to improve the patient journey, be sure to attend Digital Pharma East, taking place October 24-27, 2016 in Philadelphia, PA. This year’s event brings together more than 800 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device innovators who are implementing company-wide digital ecosystems to embed digital health across all channels to enhance customer experience. To learn more about this event please download the brochure or visit the website. Click here to register and be sure to mention Priority Code C649BLOG.

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