Intelligent Cancer Care: A much needed paradigm shift to address menace of cancer

It is time for all healthcare stakeholders to synergise and strategise to navigate the complex maze of cancer care, writes Ashok Kakkar, Senior Managing Director, Varian Medical Systems

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About Author: Ashok Kakkar, Senior Managing Director, Varian Medical Systems, a Siemens Healthineers company. With work experience spanning over 32 years in the healthcare MedTech industry, Mr Kakkar has been in variety of leadership roles in global companies like Siemens Healthcare and GE Healthcare before joining Varian Medical Systems in April 2012. He is an active participant in the trade associations and has been part of several delegations for policy advocacy both in India and abroad.

Radiotherapy (also known as radiation oncology) is a highly personalized, targeted, and cost-effective form of cancer treatment. Over the years, radiotherapy has evolved into an advanced treatment solution capable of contributing to improved patient outcomes and minimizing the potential side effects while improving patients’ comfort during the treatment. Radiotherapy is steadily becoming a strong treatment option for cancer care. Additionally, stereotactic radiation is now being preferred over other forms of oncology for brain tumours (stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy), spinal metastasis, and early-stage lung cancer to name a few. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology enabled services, radiation therapy is steadily becoming a solution of choice for most cancer treatments with nearly 60% of patients undergoing this treatment.
However, these advancements are not accessible to every Indian. Out of the 718 districts in India, radiotherapy facilities are only available in less than 100 districts. This results in only 18 to 20% of patients being able to access radiotherapy treatments. India has only 0.45 linear accelerators (radiotherapy systems also called linacs) per million (10 lakhs population) in comparison to a world average of 1.84. Moreover, the number of radiation oncologists, who are vital to provide this specialized cancer care, are also fewer when compared to global standards. This lack of radiotherapy systems and human expertise further gets compounded due to inadequate infrastructure, causing patients to travel long distances to access treatment, which eventually forces many to drop out of treatment.
It is time for all healthcare stakeholders to synergise and strategise to navigate the complex maze of cancer care to ensure delivery of affordable and equitable cancer care in India through investments in infrastructure and access, looking at partnerships to ensure every Indian can get access to the latest and most innovative healthcare that technology can deliver.
Given that access to cancer care facilities, including radiotherapy centres, is the biggest challenge in our country today, to address this huge gap, Varian has taken initiatives both at the Central Government and State Government level. We have approached states with a relatively high cancer burden with a proposal of setting up radiotherapy centres in the Government Hospitals under a Public Private Partnership (PPP). In this model, the State is expected to provide space in their hospitals, where a private clinical service provider will set up the radiotherapy centre to treat patients at a cost previously agreed with the State. This model will help address the issues of the geographical skew in terms of access and availability of facilities. Varian also has reached out to the authorities in the Central Government to develop a policy document for developing radiotherapy centres based on a PPP model. This will help the States to adopt this model much faster and eventually help cancer patients in their region.
With a clear vision of creating a world without fear of cancer, Varian is striving towards devising intelligent cancer care solutions powered by AI and machine learning to provide personalised and highly precise treatments. Advanced cancer care should be available to all Indians. We intend to improve clinical outcomes while reducing toxicity and undesirable side effects for patients through continuous investments in innovative new technologies. Expanding access to cancer care globally through partnerships with public and private clinical service providers is critical. Soon, our aim will be to deploy technology solutions that provide remote support to address the shortage of skilled human and technological resources to drive quality and consistency of care. Supporting and building capacity through education and training programs and cancer fighting infrastructure, especially in emerging markets like India, Africa, and others, through innovative commercial models will be a key focus for Varian.

*The above views expressed by the author are his own.