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American Cancer Society and IBM to Create Virtual Cancer Health Advisor

IBM and the American Cancer Society (ACS) have announced a partnership to create the first advisor for people fighting cancer, powered by supercomputer Watson cognitive computing.

The initiative, which was announced at the 13th Annual World Health Care Congress, aims to provide cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers with trusted ACS resources and guidance personalized to an individual’s unique journey against cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. The challenge of finding the right information for each person to manage their disease often presents yet another hurdle, the organization explained.

“Filtering countless health websites for relevant, accurate and trustworthy information is daunting, and even more difficult to draw insights from multiple sources. This is where Watson may help,” a spokesperson said.

Once developed, the advisor will anticipate the needs of people with different types of cancers, at different stages of disease, and at various points in treatment. It will be dynamic and become increasingly personalized as individuals engage with it, effectively getting “smarter” each time it is used.

The American Cancer Society and IBM also envision incorporating Watson’s voice recognition and natural language processing technology, enabling users to ask questions and receive audible responses.

For example, a person with breast cancer experiencing unusual levels of pain could ask what might be causing pain, the spokesperson explained. The advisor would be designed to respond with information on symptoms and self-management options associated with that persons’ current and future phases of treatment, based on the experiences of people with similar characteristics.

Because the advisor learns from each engagement, a person would receive customized options based on preferences that Watson has learned, such as a person who prefers online peer support groups to telephonic health coach calls, the spokesperson said.

ACS and IBM will create this robust resource by drawing upon massive sources of data from both organizations. Watson will then be ‘trained’ to use the data to understand and anticipate individuals needs.

The advisor will use ACS’s cancer.org 14,000 pages of detailed information on more than 70 cancer topics, as well as healthy lifestyles, risk reduction, and early detection.

Watson will also “ingest” the ACS National Cancer Information Center’s de-identified and aggregated data about self-management, support groups, health/wellness activities, and cancer education. The offering is expected to surface insights from IBM's Watson Health Cloud -- one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of non-governmental health-related data in a secure, cloud-based and HIPAA-enabled environment.

“We help patients every day who seek information and insights to understand the disease and navigate their cancer journey,” said Gary M. Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society. "This partnership can take these efforts to next level by combining the depth and breadth of cancer information from the world's most trusted cancer source with the power of cognitive technology from IBM Watson. It’s about providing the right information to the right people at the right time.”

Longer term, ACS and IBM aim to integrate the advisor with IBM’s existing Watson for Oncology offering for doctors. Watson for Oncology is a clinical decision support tool that helps doctors make personalized, evidence-based treatment decisions for their patients. By integrating the ACS advisor, clinicians could be prompted to share personalized guidance on resources, including educational materials and social services and programs such as ACS's Road to Recovery transportation, Hope Lodge housing, and Look Good Feel Better.

“IBM is honored to partner with the American Cancer Society and to apply Watson to help the Society deliver tailored education, support and services to the millions of people impacted by this disease,” said Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, chief health officer, IBM Watson Health. “In doing so, we expand IBM’s existing commitment to tackling cancer, enhance Watson’s already formidable expertise in this domain, and support the American Cancer Society in its work to save and improve lives worldwide.”

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