21 February 2023

By Tim Baker

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform many areas of healthcare, including cancer care. With its ability to analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns, AI can be used to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes in a variety of ways.

One area where AI can have a significant impact is in cancer imaging. By analyzing images from scans like X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, AI algorithms can help doctors to identify cancerous cells more accurately and efficiently. This can help to speed up the diagnostic process and ensure that patients receive appropriate treatment as quickly as possible.

In addition to improving cancer diagnosis, AI can also be used to develop more personalized treatment plans. By analysing genetic data, clinical history, and other factors, AI algorithms can help doctors to identify the most effective treatments for each individual patient, taking into account their unique circumstances and needs. This can help to improve treatment outcomes and reduce the risk of complications and side effects.

Another area where AI can be useful is in monitoring patients during and after cancer treatment. By analyzing data from wearable devices and other sources, AI algorithms can help doctors to track patients' progress and identify potential issues before they become more serious. This can help to ensure that patients receive timely interventions and reduce the risk of complications and readmissions.

Of course, there are also some challenges associated with the use of AI in cancer care. One of the biggest is the need to ensure that AI algorithms are reliable and accurate, and that they are not biased or based on incomplete or inaccurate data. It's also important to ensure that the use of AI does not replace the need for human expertise and judgment, and that patients remain at the centre of their care.

Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of AI in cancer care are significant. By leveraging the power of AI, doctors and researchers can work together to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes, and help to create a brighter future for all those affected by this disease.

The joke here, if you haven’t already guessed, is that this blog post up until this point, was written by AI. I asked Chat GTP to write a short article about the potential of AI to transform cancer care and then watched on wide-eyed as it typed out this very informative article. Hopefully you can distinguish the slightly sterile, robotic voice above and my own poetic prose!

And just to balance the ledger I’d like to mount a defence for the humans among us. Some of the most profound and beneficial moments of my cancer treatment have come from simple human empathy. One of the highlights of my treatment path was when my oncologist checked my scans six years post-diagnosis and declared with a broad grin, “This has made my day. If you had told me this was the scan of a man with metastatic prostate cancer six years after diagnosis, I wouldn’t have believed you.” I don’t imagine AI would ever make such a declaration or, even if it did, that I would feel so moved by it.

The fact that another human being care about my health status so deeply that my favourable scans had made his day was a source of deep comfort.

On the other hand, when I asked a previous oncologist how he thought I was going, that I worked really hard at my health, exercising and meditating daily, following a strict, mainly plant-based diet, in the hope that he would offer me some encouragement he said simply, “You’re about average. Some of my patients are doing better than you, some are doing worse. You’re about average.” This sounded like the sort of thing that AI would say.

I know one senior urologist who asked Chat GTP to compose the delivery of a cancer diagnosis compassionately, and he said the AI did a better job of it than most medical specialists. That AI can show greater empathy than many doctors seems like cause for concern.

So, unleash the AI if it can improve cancer care, crunch the data and spit out the perfect interpretation in seconds, but let’s not undervalue the human element. In the midst of my most challenging and despairing moments, what I have most craved is real human connection, that my fate matters to someone. And I’m not sure any form of AI, however sophisticated, is ever going to be able to provide that.


About the Author

Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.

Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but seven years on, at 57, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting The Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.