An essential discipline in the diagnosis of cancer, anatomopathology lags behind in its digitalization. However, this allows professionals to make a diagnosis remotely, to save time and to fill the medical deserts thanks to teleworking. These benefits are perfectly in line with the government’s 2021-2030 cancer plan.
Cancer diagnoses are in free fall. In 2020, delays and cancellations of appointments for consultations and medical examinations have continued to accumulate under the effect of the pandemic. However, in the cure of cancers, the moment of the assumption of responsibility is essential. The earlier the tumor is identified and treated, the more chances the patient has of remission. Cancers of the breast, colon, prostate or lung, for each month of delay in diagnosis, mortality in the years to come increases by 6%. However, in 2020, the number of new cancer diagnoses for all patients in France fell by 23.3% (source Unicancer) *. A situation whose boomerang effect will come at a high price with, in future years, a death rate of several thousand additional deaths.
With understaffed hospitals and a consequent influx of patients, the pandemic has only confirmed the urgency of accelerating the digitization of the sector to support medical staff. While some specialties have advanced technologies, others such as pathologists – a discipline consisting in identifying abnormalities in tissues or cells linked to a cancer-type disease – are lagging behind. Initiated in France four or five years ago, the digitization of this specialty remains insufficient. To date, only the Anatomy and Pathological Cytology departments of the Bicêtre Hospital and the Rennes University Hospital have been almost entirely digitized.
AI in support of medical diagnosis
By digitizing histological slides of patients, pathologists can read virtual slides from their computer. They can thus make a remote diagnosis and offer their services to other health structures which, equipped with slide scanners, send their images. This digitization therefore offers doctors not only the possibility of ensuring the continuity of their activities remotely during a period of confinement, but also allows them to read images of other establishments and therefore to fill the medical desert of certain regions.
Digitized, these slides can be analyzed by Artificial Intelligence technologies. Thus, Deep Learning algorithms trained on images from histological diagnoses made by doctors, sift virtual slides to identify possible pathological lesions. In this process, AI counts cells and points to abnormalities. This automation not only frees professionals from a time-consuming task but also helps them in their diagnoses. In addition to clinical, radiological and histological data, these AI and virtual slide techniques increase the number of patients screened by 15%… A rate which should increase significantly as these technologies evolve.
Digitize to better prevent cancer
Telediagnosis, reduction of interpretation time, prioritization of urgent cases, digitization and AI respond to many issues in the medical sector. This is why, in view of the health situation and the growth in the number of cancers, it is necessary, as of today, to deploy these technologies within health establishments so that they are more rapid and efficient in the diagnosis of the disease. Cancer. There is an urgent need to give diagnostic services the means to detect them as quickly as possible. It is not only a question of human lives, but also economic, the price of the diagnosis varies between 60 and 600 euros according to the number of histological biopsies to analyze while that of an immunotherapy which can reach 50 000 euros per year and per patient for some products. Early diagnosis can avoid heavy treatments such as immunotherapy or chemotherapy is therefore essential, whether for the health of the patient or the economic aspect. Several French startups now offer innovative and efficient solutions. But be careful not, once again, to let our R&D and our skills go abroad as we know so well.
On February 4, Emmanuel Macron launched the government’s new cancer strategy for the next 10 years (2021-2030), a section of which is devoted to early diagnosis. Passed under the radar because of the pandemic, it is time to give it back the place it deserves!
Marie Sockeel, Founder and medical advisor at Primaa