October is the month referred as the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), America when hospitals and charitable institutions organize campaigns for the awareness that ultimately leads to fund raising for research and prevention attempts of this deadly disease. I take this opportunity to contribute to the cause through my paper where I have explained how emerging technologies as AI and Blockchain can contribute to breast cancer research and accurate diagnosis.
Breast Cancer, the Beast
As per National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. “Breast cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death among women”. Every year approximately 40,000 women die out of breast cancer in USA . However thanks to technology, with early detection this mortality rate can be brought down to a major extent.
Breast cancer survivors might have gone through many unpleasant experiences and procedures during the treatment that initiates with a needle biopsy. Lymph nodes found in women breasts might not be always a malignant tumour or cancer. First, following a clinical examination by breast surgeon, a radiologist evaluates and categorises the tumour between 1-5 through x-ray mammography (figure 1), sonomammography (figure 2) or MR mammography (figure 3). If suspicious, a needle biopsy is recommended followed by surgical removal of the lesion.
As per reports diagnostic errors play a role in around 10% of patient deaths  and breast cancer is no exception. Research says, “Overall, screening mammograms miss about 20% of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening. False-negative results can lead to delays in treatment and a false sense of security for affected women”. On the other hand false-positive results would let patient go through unwanted painful and expensive procedures.
When Artificial Intelligence (AI) Meets Blockchain (BC)
Now let's find out how these two disruptive technologies AI and BC can work together to create wonder in the field of early detection of breast cancer in women.
AI is the stream of computer science where we create intelligent machines that have their own intelligence and behave like humans or may perform better. In healthcare space AI mostly uses machine-learning methods for creating value out of unstructured data which is mostly big data.
2010 London-founded Deepmind, later acquired by Google, is a world leader in AI who has come up with products to empower women health by applying machine learning to mammography screening for breast cancer . Usually these AI enabled tools have higher success rates of detection than radiologists. A similar AI program developed in UK has become very successful, as it claims to be 30 times faster in analysis than a human doctor and comes with 99% accuracy in cancer detection .
However such kind of data analytics would need huge amount of authentic patient data for deep analysis and creation of many different patterns for successful detection of tumours. In fact more the amount of data; more would be the chances of accuracy in analysis. This is where BC can help to provide data in a secure, tamper-proof way possibly from patients in many different countries and also from women of large number of different ethnic origins that would help fuel cancer research.
Born almost a decade back, Blockchain technology is still an infant who has brought the biggest disruption in 21st century. Worldwide spending in Blockchain is growing at an unbelievable rate of 81.2%  and healthcare Blockchain is projected to reach $176.8 million in 2018, and is estimated to grow over $5.61 billion by the end of 2025 .
Blockchain technology provides us a distributed secure ledger, which will log and store health-related experiences that research institutes and especially oncologists can get access to study patterns and find value out of it to serve cancer patients better. Too early to say but perhaps with Blockchain we are slowly moving towards a dream, i.e. global health governance.
Figure 1: X-ray mammogram shows a cancer in breast (arrows) (Courtesy: Dr. Rajul Rastogi)
Breast Cancer Free World, Every Woman’s Dream
While many such technologies are still in research or in beta version, days are not far when they would actually be used in the hospitals in our next door. For any such research we need data from individuals both for evaluation of positive and negative scenarios. Patients who hesitate to share their data which may go global to research institutes must note that any such organization first strip down the personal data for patient’s privacy. It should be our combined effort, be it in technology, medicine or research that would one day lead to a “Breast Cancer Free World” that is every woman’s dream.
- Breast Cancer Facts - National Breast Cancer Foundation - https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts
- How Common Is Breast Cancer? - American Cancer Society - https://cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html
- What's Up, Doc? Diagnostic errors cause 10% of patient deaths - https://helpwithaging.com/health/whats-up-doc-diagnostic-errors-cause-10-of-patient-deaths
- Mammograms - https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/mammograms-fact-sheet
- Applying machine learning to mammography screening for breast cancer - https://deepmind.com/blog/applying-machine-learning-mammography/
- This AI software can tell if you're at risk from cancer before symptoms appear - https://www.wired.co.uk/article/cancer-risk-ai-mammograms
- Report Suggests Global Spending on Blockchain Tech Could Reach $9.2 Billion by 2021 - https://bitcoinmagazine.com/articles/report-suggests-global-spending-Blockchain-tech-could-reach-92-billion-2021/
- Blockchain healthcare IT set for huge growth by 2025 - https://healthmanagement.org/c/it/news/Blockchain-healthcare-it-set-for-huge-growth-by-2025
- Cover Image Source - By Nephron [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons
Debajani Mohanty, author of Amazon bestseller “Blockchain from Concept to Execution” and “Ethereum for Architects and Developers” is a Senior Architect with NIIT Technologies Ltd, Delhi/NCR and has close to 17 years of experience in the industry. She has been involved in large projects and built many scalable enterprise B2B & B2C products from concept to market in Travel, e-Governance, e-Commerce and BFSI domains. Writing complex technical articles in easy language and with high readability is her forte that has earned her close to ten thousand followers on social media.
Debajani is a NASSCOM and UNICOM event speaker and honorary faculty at Amity University and Kerala Blockchain Academy, the first Blockchain Academy in India. Debajani is also a woman activist and writer. She has been felicitated by Nobel Peace prize winner Mr Kailash Satyarthi for her outstanding contributions to women empowerment.