Updated: January 19, 2022 3:10:58 pm
Technology is transforming the landscape of cancer care, far more than we can imagine. The conversation is now about delivering precise, personalised care to patients across India, beyond the metros.
Experts agree that during the pandemic, there was collateral damage when it came to treatment of other diseases, particularly cancer. For instance, a patient suffering from a lump in the breast or a mouth ulcer delayed a hospital visit due to fear of contracting Covid or other logistics, hurting their chances of early diagnosis, which is critical for cancer treatment. However, the silver lining is that connecting with doctors online has now become the norm, with large hospital networks navigating “virtual tumour boards”, where specialists can discuss complex cases, thus offering a high level of care. Just like we made the transition from landlines to smartphones, technology is also poised to make high-end medical care available to people in Tier-2 & 3 cities.
We are making strides in achieving the dream of universal health coverage to provide care to both the rich and non-affluent, for whom affording long-drawn cancer treatment is an uphill task. Large hospital networks, such as HCG with nearly 25 centres across India, have enabled care for about 53 crores of the population. Precision care, too, goes a long way in meeting this challenge. While there are a limited number of specialists, digital aids and virtual tumour boards (VTBs) can make access possible, with the help of institutions like Tata Memorial Hospital.
The impact is revolutionary. People do not have to travel long-distances and incur additional costs of treatment. Places like Ranchi, Cuttack, Nasik have PET scans and high-end linear accelerators today, which were not available a decade ago. There has been tremendous development globally and India is not far behind. Providing 350 million of urban India with high-quality cancer care in itself is an achievement.
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Technology is definitely leading the change when it comes to the future of cancer care, in the major areas of diagnosis, surgery and radiation oncology. PET CT scanners, too, have become far superior over the last two decades. For instance, taking us from analog to digital imaging, like in the case of a mammography. Thanks to access to high-quality data, we now also have image-guided surgery, the robotic Davinci technique, etc, which are all part of the new generation of surgery. So, it’s not just diagnosis, but the entire spectrum that has benefited from technology.
Nuclear medicine and molecular imaging are no longer just futuristic terms but a reality for cancer care today. It is tremendous news for patients and their families as the technological precision makes it easier to catch a malignancy and a tumour which seemed inoperable, may now appear operable, thanks to better imaging technology. Digital screening techniques, across the board, have also significantly reduced the exposure to radiation.
Moreover, as everyone knows, cancer is not just one single disease but actually a hundred, affecting different organs and tissues. This calls for precise, personalised treatment protocols as well, which is now possible thanks to companies like GE Healthcare, which launched the PET CT-scanner Discovery IQ, PET MRI making technology accessible pan-India. While ensuring better clinical outcomes, this makes healthcare affordable as well, as firstly, patients no longer have to travel to the bigger metros in search of a PET CT scanner, as in the earlier decades. Besides, with access to a team of experts virtually, they need not worry about getting a second opinion, reducing anxiety as well for patients and their families.
When we talk of the future of cancer care, theranostics (derived from therapeutics+diagnostics) plays a key role in delivering personalized medicine, simultaneously combining diagnosis and therapy. It uses imaging to identify if certain tumour receptors are present in cancer cells, followed by precision radiation treatment, without affecting the surrounding healthy cells.
Technology helps build efficiency, bring down costs and make care accessible and affordable. The future is already here, with hospitals prepared to address the responsibility of regular follow-ups, home care and blood tests, alongside smart features that help to provide virtual care. Patients need to visit a hospital only for actual care.
When it comes to cancer management, collaborations are an integral part of finding solutions. GE believes in the power of partnership and has structured the Edison accelerator program with start-ups to bring best solutions to providers.
Thus, with so many bright minds taking on the cancer challenge, the prognosis has never been better. The future of cancer care is set to be more patient-focused, accessible and affordable in years to come.
(Source: Webinar titled ‘Shaping the Future of Cancer Care’, part of the campaign Cancer Care Matters in association with GE Healthcare. The panelists included Dr. Venkatesh Rangarajan, Head, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, Tata Memorial Hospital; Dr. BS Ajaikumar, Chairman and CEO, HealthCare Global; and Karan Verma, Head, Digital and Care Area, GE Healthcare, South Asia.)
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