In the ever-changing landscape of human health, cancer is a constant that looms large.
As a doctor I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that this disease has on individuals, families, and healthcare systems all over the world.
I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that cancer accounts for nearly 10m deaths per year, and that this figure is expected to grow.
By 2040 it is predicted there will be 30.2m new cases each year with the number of deaths annually reaching 16.3m.
But what might surprise you is that thanks to advances in healthcare, a future is in sight where more cancers could be prevented, more people will be diagnosed earlier, and more people will benefit from personalised treatment.
Bupa has a team of internal experts, a Clinical Horizon Scanning team, which help us to anticipate the health needs of our customers, both now and in the future.
Following World Cancer Day on February 4, they have identified four key areas that have the potential to deliver a positive impact on how healthcare systems will detect, diagnose and treat cancer over the next 10 years.
Of course, each of these innovations is at a different stage of development, but they do point to a promising future.
1. Liquid biopsies: A liquid biopsy is a test to diagnose or analyse tumours using fluid samples such as blood, saliva, or urine rather than a solid piece of tissue.
This has the potential to detect cancer at an earlier stage and improve patient outcomes as a result.
Liquid biopsies may also contribute to increased healthcare efficiencies, reducing time to diagnosis and potentially costs associated with some late-stage therapies – which is key considering cancer is predicted to cost global healthcare systems $25tn across the next 30 years.
Clinical trials are currently looking into liquid biopsies that can monitor lung, breast and oesophageal cancer and it’s anticipated they may be available by 2026.
2. Cancer Vaccines: Lessons learned from the development of COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the field of cancer vaccines.
Preventative cancer vaccines are already in use, for liver cervical cancers, and vaccines for breast, colorectal and lung cancer are now being developed which could be completed in the next five years.
Added to this are the potential of cancer vaccines to treat cancer, of which there are over 300 in clinical trials.
These vaccines train the immune system to attack cancer cells within the body once cancer has already developed.
Early results for trials on colorectal, lung, gastric and pancreatic tumours are promising with researchers predicting these vaccines will become widely available by 2030.
3. Digital Oncology: Adoption of new technology such as virtual consultations, clinical wearables and digital therapeutics have the potential to speed up screening, improve diagnostic accuracy and enable personalised treatment.
In the future, these technologies will be able to detect changes in customer biology before they realise anything is wrong and will flag them to clinicians. For instance, a clinical trial for a smart bra prototype is taking place at the moment.
This bra is equipped with heat sensors and AI to detect early signs of breast cancer at home.
4. Artificial Intelligence in cancer care: AI is set to revolutionise how we diagnose and care for cancer.
Patients will receive regular health check-ups that incorporate AI-powered risk assessments which will help to detect cancer early or provide the patient with their risk of developing cancer in the future.
Based on this, the patient will then be given personalised recommendations for lifestyle modifications that will help reduce their cancer risk.
In the future, AI also has the potential to influence and speed up the discovery and development of new cancer drugs.
However, AI is being used in cancer diagnoses already.
At Bupa, AI is playing a key role in the diagnoses of skin cancer.
Through Blua, our home of digital health, Bupa customers in Spain can take photos of a mole they are concerned about with their smartphone, and then access an AI feature that compares their photo with a database of millions of other images of skin lesions to check for signs of malignancy.
While all of these innovations have challenges that must be addressed to unlock their full potential, I believe they do represent a leap forward in our fight against cancer.
I’m looking forward to following the developments in this space across the next 10 years.
I’m optimistic they could help pave way for a future where conquering cancer is not just a possibility but a tangible reality.
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