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The Power of Data: Cancer Support from Prevention to Palliation


The collected, combined, reviewed and analysed data from the IAEA databases is used by the human health experts. (Photo: IAEA)

High-quality, accessible and transparent data help experts make more informed decisions, and this is particularly so when it comes to applying nuclear techniques in human health. To foster further collaboration in this area, the IAEA held a side event at the 65th General Conference on 21 September with more than 230 participants, who discussed the impact of the IAEA’s databases on guiding decision making.

“Decision making without data is like trying to navigate without the needed equipment and has many limitations. We must always aspire to collect, review and analyse high quality data,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health. “This approach provides solid scientific evidence on which to tailor our advice and solutions to Member States’ needs, including in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer as well as in monitoring and addressing malnutrition.”

IAEA human health databases in focus

During the event, ten experts shared their experience on how data from seven publicly available human health global databases can be used in research and in education. This includes the IAEA DIrectory of RAdiotherapy Centres (DIRAC), the oldest database established more than 60 years ago. As with other human health databases, this registry of radiotherapy centres can provide data to be applied in research – DIRAC-based data have been used in more than 140 publications – as well as in clinical practice.

“DIRAC is a powerful tool to help clinicians select the appropriate cancer treatment centres around the world,” said Ibrahim Duhaini, Chief Medical Physicist at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Lebanon. “As a DIRAC coordinator for my country, I help my fellow physicists to continuously update the status and functionality of our 13 radiotherapy centres to help patients [around the] country.”

Databases such as IMAGINE, a registry of medical imaging and nuclear medicine resources, and DIRAC can also help experts in health economics. This branch of economics applies financial theory and models to health and healthcare. Data from both DIRAC and  IMAGINE are displayed in a visual form, such as maps and charts, and help in planning future health activities or in estimating efficiency and effectiveness. The databases could help countries in estimating the budget needed, for example, for a new computed tomography (CT). Countries can then not only estimate the budget for buying such a machine but also consider the costs of operating and sustaining it.

“The IAEA IMAGINE database provides, for the first time, detailed information on medical imaging equipment and workforce across 200 countries globally,” said Andrew Scott, Director of the Department of Molecular Imaging and Therapy, Austin Health in Australia, one of the speakers at the event. “This data is pivotal in efforts to improve health outcomes for cancer patients, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.”

Data can help prioritize medical investments to save lives: panel members discussed The Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine report, a data-based study co-led by IAEA experts to assess imaging and nuclear medicine needs worldwide. As it shows, scaling up access to nuclear medicine and medical imaging services would avert nearly 2.5 million cancer deaths worldwide by 2030 and yield global lifetime productivity gains of US$ 1.41 trillion – a net return of over US$ 200 per US$ 1 invested.

Addressing nutrition issues with IAEA data has also helped policymakers in several countries. The IAEA Doubly Labelled Water (DLW) Database, which contains over 7600 human energy expenditure measurements from the last three decades using a stable isotope technique, for instance, can help researchers look at the impact of more sedentary lifestyles on dietary needs.

Participants also discussed the importance of collaborative data collection though online platforms such as International Research Integration System (IRIS).

“The more robust the data we collect and maintain, the more we can help Member States, and the better results we can achieve,” said Abdel-Wahab in her concluding remarks.

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