1. Kahlon, Summerpal MD

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"Now I know, and knowing is half the battle." That catchphrase from the old morning cartoon public service announcements still carries relevance today. Awareness, scientific knowledge, and the informed conversations that result are important to advancing in the fight against breast cancer. With Breast Cancer Awareness Month recently behind us, it is important to reflect on how far we've come, and to look to the future and how we can continue to advance.

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If knowledge truly is power, then imagine the importance of knowledge when applied to preventing, detecting, and treating deadly diseases such as breast cancer. As we move forward, our knowledge continues to grow and is driven by an increasing variety of healthcare data available for research and clinical utilization.


Harnessing and focusing this data is the key to generating new insights to further advancements in oncology. There is an enormous amount of potentially useful data, fragmented and scattered into a variety of information systems and locations, including: medical records from clinics, hospitals, and labs; clinical trial records; genetic testing and family history; patient-reported data and connected devices; environmental and occupational data; and medical and health journals.


Effective Data Use

While data doesn't treat disease, effective and efficient use of data generates the insight and knowledge needed for vital discovery and timely intervention, which ultimately changes lives.


And while not always glamorous, new innovations that can cull, manage, and activate data-from an individual server in a faraway computing cloud to the application workflows at the fingertips of a scientist or clinician-are vital to expanding the breadth and depth of knowledge while accelerating the pace of discovery.


There are a few key principles to keep in mind in aligning data so as to be useful in breast cancer as well as medical treatment more broadly:


* Person-centric organization of data


* Construction of a holistic view of the individual


* Organization of the individual into easily analyzable cohorts and similar populations


* Normalization of data to generate clean, reproducible and reliable insight


* Utilization of advanced statistical tools and applications to gain deep insight



Leveraging Technology

Technology plays an important role in supporting researchers around the globe who are working to identify new biomarkers and insights into disease trends, providing an expansive health care data platform operating on high-performance computing systems.


Those trends uncovered by leveraging data on these platforms then unearth novel targets for diagnostic lab tests and new medication options to combat diseases.


When translational researchers can combine clinical data with their research data and explore the correlations between disease markers and real-world patient outcomes, we have a better chance of succeeding in finding cures. The challenges and burdens of sifting through unreliable, disorganized data takes precious time away from focusing on high-value activities.


In talking about data, it's easy to forget sometimes that behind every bit of data, there is a real person. For a woman suffering from breast cancer, and for all those around her who care about her, data doesn't mean anything unless it leads to action-such as identifying treatments that have the best chance of success, based on this woman's particular genes.


Empowering Clinicians

Again, though, those actions impact real people, and there is an expectation that the data used to generate action will be reliable, quick to access, and easy to interpret based on the available tools-and then quickly applied to treatment or positive outcomes. Acquiring, organizing, and analyzing that data is key to ensuring timely action to combat disease and positively impact lives.


The challenge is that clinicians have access to more data than can possibly be used at any given moment. The volume and variety of data out there can be overwhelming, even more so if there are gaps or reliability issues that erode its validity and utility. When clinicians use tools like electronic health records, mobile apps, and cloud-based web services, the idea is to provide accurate, complete, and secure information seamlessly so they don't even notice the infrastructure underneath. In the end, the most important thing is not how data works but how it can be used to improve lives every day.


More knowledge is a good thing. More information is a good thing. More communication is a good thing. More data can be a good thing, but if and only if that data is properly utilized to empower knowledge and information. Using data to empower clinicians who treat patients, further augments the arsenal available in the fight against breast cancer.


SUMMERPAL KAHLON, MD, is on staff at the Orlando VA Medical Center and is affiliated with the University of Central Florida College of Medicine as Assistant Professor of Medicine.

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