IBM and its Watson technology will use its cognitive computing platform to provide personalized guidance to cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, using information and research resources of the American Cancer Society.

The partnership between iBM and the not-for-profit organization is expected to make use of Watson Health’s capabilities to provide personalized guidance to cancer patients who want specific information in managing their disease.

The agreement, announced at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, furthers the use of Watson Health technology in the fight against cancer. It already offers Watson for Oncology, which offers clinical decision support services to physicians to enable them to make personalized, evidence-based treatment decisions for their patient. Watson technology also is being applied to data challenges of cancer treatment through partnerships with prominent hospitals and research organizations.

The agreement between IBM and ACS is aimed at bringing the right information to cancer patients and providers to help them get information that’s specific to their disease, condition and questions, with a long-term goal of incorporating Watson’s voice recognition and natural language processing technology to enable users to ask questions and receive audible responses.

American Cancer Society Center
American Cancer Society Center

Patients and their caregivers often struggle to finding specific information for managing their disease. Currently, they have to filter through various health websites looking for relevant, accurate and trustworthy information.

ACS and IBM will create a resource for patients by using massive sources of data from both partners, then “train” Watson to use the data to understand and anticipate individuals’ needs. The advisor will use 14,000 pages of detailed information on more than 70 cancer topics on ACS’s website.

Personalization of advice could work like this: a person with breast cancer experiencing unusual levels of pain could ask the service what might be causing pain. The advisor would be designed to respond with information on symptoms and self-management options associated with that person’s 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.

Once the advisor is developed, it will anticipate the needs of people with different types of cancers, at different stages of the disease and in various points in their treatment cycle. As a dynamic and learning technology, it will become increasingly personalized as individuals engage with it.

“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.”

IBM is working with researchers, clinicians, and cancer institutions to apply Watson technology to the data challenges of cancer treatment through partnerships with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center. At the Mayo Clinic, Watson is helping doctors match patients to relevant clinical trials, and 16 leading cancer institutes are working with Watson to help doctors translate DNA insights into personalized treatment options for patients. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine are using Watson to develop solutions for automated hypothesis generation.

Watson is the first commercially available cognitive computing capability representing a new era in computing. The system, delivered through the cloud, analyzes high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language, and proposes evidence-based answers. Watson continuously learns, gaining in value and knowledge over time, from previous interactions.

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