Dr Anna Britten, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Sussex Cancer Center and Director of Medical Affairs at Elekta, presents her thoughts on the role AI can play in reducing the cancer backlog.
The UK is facing its worst cancer crisis in 40 years. A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and decades of underfunded NHS has resulted in the creation of a monumental health crisis.
In order to bring this crisis under control, the NHS must continue the excellent vaccination campaign, meet the needs of victims of COVID-19 (both acute and long-term), as well as continue to treat, in a timely manner, all cases cancer. that occurred before, during and after the multiple pandemic closures.
A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Radiation Therapy developed a six-point COVID-19 stimulus package to save lives and money. Among its recommendations, the group calls for a ring-fenced investment fund for advanced computing technologies, including software solutions, AI and machine learning products.
With human supervision, AI can be used to support much of the radiation therapy workflows, ensuring greater capacity, improving access, enabling a reduction in COVID-19 cancer backlogs and, most importantly. again, allowing staff to spend more time face to face. -face to patients.
Accelerate diagnosis and treatment by expanding the use of technology and AI
Most radiotherapy departments were able to continue to provide reasonable service throughout the multiple closures. In this time of unprecedented conflict, the need to adapt has led to a shift away from long-term radiotherapy protocols towards more hypofractionation (and ultra-hypofractionation) aimed at compensating for a reduction in surgeries and therapy. systemic against cancer.
Radiotherapy technology has come a long way through research and development. It is this constant innovation that is the reason why today we have precise, fast and increasingly automated workflows for highly efficient and very safe processing. Among Elekta’s products are software tools developed for automatic contouring, essential for adaptive radiation therapy workflows. Contouring is a step in the radiotherapy process which is the most subjective and therefore prone to weakness in normalization. It is about drawing around the targets to be treated with precision, and around the anatomy which must be avoided, thus increasing the precision and reducing the side effects.
Elekta’s research team organized thousands of MRI image datasets provided by the MR-linac consortium and used them to train automatic contour models. These algorithms will become an integral part of an adaptive radiation therapy workflow where a patient’s radiation therapy plan is adapted daily to the anatomy, pathology and biology of that day.
With human oversight, there’s no reason AI can’t significantly contribute to creating a faster, safer, and ever more accurate process. From diagnostic investigations to planning, tailoring and administering treatment, AI can help improve cancer outcomes, tackle wait lists and address labor shortages. artwork.
Innovation must be accompanied by targeted training
Technology can make a huge difference in cancer care, especially at a time when services are under great strain. However, there is no point in having highly sophisticated radiation therapy technology if the expert cannot use it effectively. This is why user development must go hand in hand with innovation.
Targeted training and upgrading of radiographers to take on additional responsibilities – such as contouring – will help accelerate the implementation of advanced technologies such as stereotaxic ablative radiation therapy (SABR). Therefore, in addition to creating a modern radiotherapy department, we will develop the career progression of radiologists in therapy, which will lead to a happier and more satisfied workforce. Education and training are therefore essential to ensure the sustainability of a historically underfunded and often neglected service with just 5% of the NHS budget, which was recently acknowledged at an online cancer summit, where APPG President for Radiation Therapy Tim Farron acknowledged that the NHS workforce had the expertise to tackle the COVID-19 cancer backlog, but could only fix it if ministers admitted there was a crisis in cancer health care, made vital investments in cancer services, and acted quickly.
Elekta focuses on supporting and training radiographers and radiation oncologists. Our cloud-based Contouring and Planning Academies (ECA and EPA) provide the necessary training for a global workforce dedicated to providing the best cancer care.