The complexity of cancer demands next generation tools. Digital pathology is an opportunity to help transform cancer care.

Cancer is a complex cellular disease that is influenced by a combination of environment and genetics, otherwise known as a patient’s “health signature.1” And the profiling of the disease is moving beyond a visual tissue assessment under a microscope and its current cancer classification by organ type. A variety of genetic and molecular variables are also being considered alongside tissue-based images to understand the nature of the disease and to affect development of treatment plans.

Cancer is more than just 1 disease. Its more than 200.

With more information and data being understood and analyzed, the evolving area of healthcare called Precision Medicine is further taking shape. Precision Medicine is an approach that incorporates individual differences in genetics, environments and lifestyles, making it possible to craft highly effective, targeted treatments for a patient.1 Significant advances have been made for select cancers, and many efforts are underway to help make Precision Medicine the norm rather than the exception.2

Underscoring the advances are digital technologies which have included2:

Expanding field of digital pathology chart

  • The ability to predict a patient’s risk of cancer and plan for preventative care and monitoring throughout the patient’s life.
  • Effectiveness, or lack thereof, in treatments impacting a patient’s cancer type can be determined.
  • Data collection from thousands of cases can be catalogued and analyzed, leading to new insights and potentially more individualized treatments.

Unfortunately, the adoption of digital technology has not spread to the whole of healthcare. But rapid advances are taking place in several areas. For example, the expanding field of digital pathology which is employing automated image analysis techniques is contributing to the evolution of traditional pathology.2 Anatomic pathologists will have an opportunity to use new tools and possibly expand their role as a “diagnostic integrator” to include assessment of molecular and genetic data.

The expertise that pathologists provide is far too critical to cancer care for the power of new technologies to go unleveraged.

  1. http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/is-cancer-a-genetic-disease. Accessed 06/03/15.
  2. Precision Medicine: Improving Health and Treating Disease. https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/01/21/precision-medicine-improving-health-and-treating-disease.
  3. Precision Medicine Initiative. http://www.nih.gov/precisionmedicine/. Accessed 4/30/15.
  4. Mapping spatial heterogeneity in the tumor microenvironment: a new era for digital pathology. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599534. Accessed 05/01/15.
  5. https://pacenetwork.com/pace_index.php. Accessed 04/30/15.