IBM and the American Cancer Society (ACS) are working together to create the first virtual cancer health advisor for people fighting cancer, powered by IBM Watson.

The initiative, announced at the 13th annual World Health Care Congress, aims to provide cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with trusted ACS resources and guidance personalised to an individual’s unique journey against cancer.

Once developed, the advisor will anticipate the needs of people with different types of cancers, at different stages of disease, and at various points in treatment. It will be dynamic and become increasingly personalised as individuals engage with it, effectively getting “smarter” each time it is used.

ACS and IBM also plan to integrate Watson’s voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP) technology, enabling users to ask questions and receive audible responses.

For example, a person with breast cancer experiencing unusual levels of pain could ask 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 customised options based on preferences that Watson has learned, such as a person who prefers online peer support groups to telephonic health coach calls.

IBM and ACS will create this robust resource by drawing upon massive sources of data from both organisations, then train Watson to use the data to understand and anticipate individual’s needs. The advisor will use ACS’s 14,000 pages of detailed information on more than 70 cancer topics, as well as healthy lifestyles, risk reduction and early detection.

Watson will also “ingest” the ACS National Cancer Information Centre’s de-identified and aggregated data about self-management, support groups, health or wellness activities and cancer education. The offering is expected to surface insights from IBM’s Watson Health Cloud.

“We help patients every day who seek information and insights to understand the disease and navigate their cancer journey,” said CEO of the ACS, Gary M. Reedy.

“This partnership can take these efforts to the 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,” continued Reedy.

ACS and IBM have long term plans to integrate the advisor with IBM’s existing Watson for Oncology offering for doctors. Watson for Oncology is a clinical decision support tool that helps doctors make personalised, evidence-based treatment decisions for their patients.

By integrating the ACS advisor, clinicians could be prompted to share personalised guidance on resources, including educational materials and social services and programmes such as ACS’s Road to Recovery transportation, Hope Lodge housing and Look Good Feel Better.

“IBM is honoured to partner with the ACS and to apply Watson to help the Society deliver tailored education, support and services to the millions of people impacted by this disease,” said Chief Health Officer at IBM Watson Health, Kyu Rhee.

“In doing so, we expand IBM’s existing commitment to tackling cancer, enhance Watson’s already formidable expertise in this domain, and support the ACS in its work to save and improve lives worldwide,” concluded Rhee.

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