How AI and IoT Can Improve Cancer Treatment

While AI and IoT may have been developed separately, their combined force could empower cancer patients and their doctors to make better data-driven decisions.

Graphic of a cancerous tumor over a lab setting

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power to make our lives easier. Healthcare is one industry in which IoT could affect positive change. There’s plenty of buzz about how IoT could help boost the efficiency of healthcare. It could reduce emergency room wait times and tracking patient and inventory data. There is also hope that artificial intelligence (AI) could someday assist doctors with cancer research, detection, and care. I argue that together AI and IoT can improve cancer treatment.

Opportunities in Diagnosis and Treatment

As machines and devices grow better at communicating with each other, AI technology like IBM’s Watson, as well as robotic surgeons, are helping doctors treat cancer from diagnosis to care. For now, however, AI and IoT don’t work together in the cancer treatment space. In general, the earlier a doctor can recognize symptoms, the more quickly they can reach a diagnosis and begin treatment.

A variety of early-stage cancer symptoms are vague and unrecognizable, so it’s understandable that cancers may initially go undiagnosed. Therein lies the point: AI and IoT can improve cancer treatment, but they should work together.

IoT systems that work in tandem with AI platforms will be capable of deciphering cancer risk markers and acting upon them. They’ll be able to do so for less serious conditions and in more ambiguous diagnostic environments. Such an advanced fusion of technologies will be especially useful when it comes to rare diseases and those with poor life expectancy in later stages.

Image of an electron microscopic rendering of cancerous cells
Image credit: Skeeze, Pixaby.

For cancers like mesothelioma, it’s vital to recognize symptoms as soon as possible to ensure a better prognosis. Mesothelioma, which develops over a period of decades after inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, is often difficult to detect because early symptoms may manifest as a cough or discomfort in the abdomen or chest. With the help of AI, connecting these symptoms with vast troves of aggregated patient data could allow patients to receive treatment promptly, thereby lengthening life expectancy.

Researchers at MIT are developing machine learning (ML) solutions to make cancer treatments less toxic but no less effective for patients. As we know, chemotherapeutic treatments, for example, are toxic by definition. Their toxicity is nonetheless often a necessary evil with current treatment modalities. ML could mitigate the side effects.

When treating tumors associated with glioblastoma, for example, doctors administer the highest amount of medication and radiation to shrink the tumor while still being relatively safe for the patient’s long-term health. As AI and ML become even more sophisticated, doctors could administer safe yet productive and accurate doses of medication. AI could aid with the metrics and predictions while IoT swoops to leverage sensor-driven data generation and insight, which in turn would optimize safe drug delivery. 

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AI and IoT Can Improve Cancer Treatment

Consumer technology companies are also in the midst of creating wearable technology that can help detect and diagnose cancer with the help of AI and IoT. Cisco is currently working with the CEO of Circadia Health to develop a bra that could help detect early signs of breast cancer. Known as the ITBra, it would track changes in the temperature of breast tissue over time to identify atypical patterns, transforming those patterns into insightful risk markers. Technologies like ITBra provide a much-needed boost for breast cancer research. AI-IoT-driven early-warning systems could save lives.

With some of the world’s most intelligent professionals creating innovative applications of AI and medical research, it’s easy to see the potential this advanced technology has for cancer care. Government-supported programs like the “Cancer Moonshot Initiative” have helped researchers to develop new treatments collaboratively and interdisciplinarily.

The Cancer Moonshot, which the National Cancer Institute launched to accelerate cancer research by 2020 through rigorous science, has brought together a coalition of researchers, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and others. It has given them the perspective and financial means to work with AI and other advanced technologies like IoT.

Giving these professionals the resources they need is crucial to the development of cancer care in the 21st century. AI and IoT can improve cancer treatment together. There are promising advances in all areas of cancer research from diagnosis to care, and the marriage of AI and IoT can only enhance that promising upward trend.

While AI and IoT may have developed separately, their combined force would empower patients and medical professionals more than we’ve imagined. AI allows doctors more tools to make better, more data-driven decisions. IoT provides the necessary technology to connect devices, data, and action, such as through optimized drug delivery systems and early detection mechanisms. But we need far more research into potential applications and use cases.