ONCAlert | 2018 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium

CancerLinQ Helps Providers Make Sense of Data

Tony Hagen
Published Online: 6:19 PM, Fri November 11, 2016
Electronic health records (EHR) have been heralded as a means of launching oncology into a precise and personalized world of medicine, but they have failed in many respects, according to presenters at the 34th Annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium.™ For one thing, oncologists often feel EHRs force them to perform more of a clerical, than an analytical role.

However, an initiative by ASCO to consolidate large volumes of patient data and make it available in useable form in real time is rapidly gaining traction, said Jennifer Wong, chief of Strategic Alliances for CancerLinQ, a nonprofit subsidiary of ASCO.

Wong said providers are faced with a growing mountain of data that until the arrival of CancerLinQ, was tough to interpret and could not easily be converted into a form relevant to their needs as oncologists. What was lacking, she said, was a key to unlock the potential of that data.

“The future is all about data. Data drives actionable, timely, relevant, and precise decisions to help improve the quality of care that we provide to our patients,” she said.

CancerLinQ began 2 years ago as an effort to fill the void created by EHRs. Providers can hook their EHRs up to CancerLinQ and enable the pooling of anonymous patient data with similar data from cancer treatment centers across the United States. Participating physicians use a browser-based “dashboard” that enables them to “create patient cohorts, generate different hypotheses, and gain insights” that immediately aid in making better patient treatment decisions, Wong said.

Physicians can use broad pools of patient information to draw helpful conclusions about their own patients, or they can do their own local discovery via CancerLinQ and share those findings with the broader population of users, Wong said. “It’s about democratizing access to important insights.”

CancerLinQ users can also look into a patient’s clinical event history and obtain a more comprehensive understanding of diagnoses and the treatment basis, Wong said, adding that the web-based tool is supplemented by ASCO’s quality performance guidelines and research into best practices. It all boils down to a system that can help oncologists catch up with the rapid pace of knowledge and work it to their advantage. 

One example of why physicians need a tool like this can be found in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), Wong said. In the not-too-distant past, “NSCLC was considered one disease, but now it is known to be a constellation of diseases characterized by a number of molecular drivers which need to be better understood.” CancerLinQ can help oncologists parse available information quickly and clearly to find what’s needed for individual patients based on the latest evidence, Wong said.

Further, she said, CancerLinQ is not a passive source of knowledge, but a dynamic instrument that can leverage the value of information gathered by practitioners to help generate much more relevant data than generally emerges from clinical trials. 

“Clinical trials don’t tell the whole story. Nearly 2 million patients are diagnosed with cancer annually in the United States, but only 3% of them actually participate in clinical trials. Trial data is not representative of real-world patients, because it tends not to include older, sicker, and more diverse patients,” she said.

In the past 2 years, 1 million patient cases have been compiled through CancerLinQ, and over 70 practices (including academic institutions) are participating. The goal is to expand much further and make CancerLinQ available to the international oncology community in 12 months’ time, Wong said. 

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