Project Baseline: Predicting Cancer Before It Happens

animated image of Cancer cells

Cancer is a disease that claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and most people know at least one person who suffers from cancer. In fact, it’s such a widespread affliction that it’s the second-highest leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease. So, it should come as no surprise that many of those in the medical field have made it their primary focus for research.

One of the biggest areas of research when it comes to cancer is prediction, because the sooner cancer is detected, the higher the chance that the patient will survive. In most cases, cancer is diagnosed after it has already entered into the advanced stages, which severely decreases the effectiveness of current cancer treatments. However, if it was possible to detect cancer in the early stages, or even before it happens, then patients who suffer from it would have much better outcomes.

Detecting cancer early

The idea of detecting cancer before it develops is certainly not a new one. It’s a subject that has long been discussed and theorized with the advent of modern medicine. There have even been quite a few “old wives’ tales” regarding how to predict and prevent cancer. In the past, studies have also been done to see if dogs can be used to detect early signs of cancer in humans through smell.

However, a new study is about to be underway that hopes to create a new breakthrough in cancer prediction. It is being headed by Dr. Sam Gambhir, who lost his son to brain cancer in 2015 and has devoted his life to researching treatments for cancer. Dr. Gambhir believes that if it’s possible to detect cancer early, then many more lives will be able to be saved thanks to receiving early treatment.

This study, which is called Project Baseline, will be rather distinct with its research method in that its participants will be healthy subjects rather than those who have already been diagnosed with an illness. The plan will be, to an astronomical amount, collect data on each of the participants and monitor their health for any changes in hopes of being able to spot a key marker that points towards the development of cancer. If they manage to find such a marker, then future researchers and physicians will know what to look for when testing for cancer.

The researchers will also be sharing their findings with the participants, which is another way that this study is unique from most others in the medical field. Though, this idea is something that has been gaining traction with other projects as of late.

The role of artificial intelligence in cancer predictions

Machine learning and artificial intelligence have been some of the biggest buzzwords in the tech industry as of late. People are continually coming up with new theories and researching into what artificial intelligence is capable of. Unsurprisingly, many researchers have been looking into what AI might be able to contribute to the field of medicine.

One such application of AI in medicine is in the prediction of cancer cell growth. In this case, the AI is fed as much data about DNA mutation and tumor growth as possible, and from there it is able to predict how a tumor will develop within a patient.

While this kind of technology is still a long way off from being used by oncologists in practice, it does hold a lot of promise for the future of cancer treatment. If a doctor is able to use AI to predict how a cancer growth is going to develop, then they can intervene much earlier and target treatment to that specific case. Being able to catch the cancer early as well as personalize the treatment to the patient’s condition will help increase the patient’s chance of survival.

Ethical concerns

As with any kind of research in the medical field, ethics need to be taken into account when it comes to potentially predicting cancer in patients. These ethical concerns are already being raised in regard to using genetic testing to predict the likelihood of someone, or their children, developing cancer later in life.

In a scenario where a patient undergoes genetic testing, insurance companies could theoretically discriminate against them because they are more likely to get cancer. Similarly, what if the person decides they don’t want to know if they’re susceptible to cancer? Should they be told anyway? Should their descendants still be told about their genetics? These are just a few of the ethical problems with genetic testing for cancer, and only more will come up as other forms of predictive cancer detection develop in the future.

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