Tackling cancer information overload

Cancer specialists everywhere increasingly face new findings from molecular biology. Genetic profiling of tumours opens up entirely new perspectives on the disease. How to cope with and integrate new insights into cancer diagnosis and treatment was among key issues discussed at the 2nd European Forum on Oncology, held in Berlin this May

Richard Schilsky
Richard Schilsky

Due to demographic ageing, scientists such as Professor Richard Schilsky, Deputy Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Centre, University of Chicago, foresees that cancer will soon overtake cardiovascular diseases as the most common cause of death. In his lecture during the 2nd European Forum on Oncology, he projected 13.2 million deaths worldwide from cancer by 2030 and more than €150 billion Euros spent on cancer treatment.

Unsurprisingly, there was full agreement among participants: in terms of cancer prevention, healthcare policymakers need to take more action. A new perspective on disease has evolved - the molecular angle – which changes almost everything. For example, keenly discussed was how to tackle the diversification of non-small cell lung cancer, which splits into a variety of still unknown subtypes, characterised by a specific genotype.

Wanted: rapid-learning systems

‘All in all the amount of data a physician has to be able to process now, to deliver care to a single patient, is becoming overwhelming,’ according to Prof. Schilsky. Therefore, rapid learning healthcare systems are indispensable. At the George Washington University, a rapid learning project for healthcare, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is exploring strategies for the USA to merge compatible electronic health records from private and public sectors into research databases and rapid-learning networks that contain clinical information of millions of patients. The aim of this project is to gather information on new treatments, drugs and medical technologies much faster than is currently possible so that physicians can immediately apply the findings in medical practice and better tailor care to patients.

The EurocanPlatform

The professor also foresees a change in cancer research and the framework of clinical trials: ‘International collaboration and sharing will be essential to make progress in developing new therapies for increasingly rare and small subsets of different types of cancer.’ In Europe, several promising approaches to enhance such collaboration are already underway. Professor Ulrik Ringborg, Director of Stockholm’s Karolinska Cancer Centre, presented one -- the EurocanPlatform -- a network of leading EU cancer research institutes that also served as scientific advisor to the European Forum on Oncology. The EurocanPlatform goal is to coordinate and structure European cancer research and facilitate the swift transfer of results from research to prevention, early detection and patient care. 28 European cancer institutes and societies now collaborate within the EurocanPlatform.


According to Prof. Schilsky, the lives of millions of people worldwide could be saved by tobacco control, enhanced vaccination against infections and equal access to healthcare. The forum participants agreed that European healthcare policymakers need to take more action to bring forward measures of prevention. The next European Forum on Oncology will be held for the first time in Brussels and it is hoped that this could strengthen demands on European healthcare politicians for more prevention.


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