IBM puts Watson to work on cancer with new patient-advisor tool

It will tap natural language processing and offer personalised advice

IBM's Watson West hub in San Francisco. Credit: Tony Avelar/IBM

IBM's Watson West hub in San Francisco. Credit: Tony Avelar/IBM

IBM is developing a new weapon in the battle against cancer that will put Watson to work in a new way. Partnering with the American Cancer Society, IBM is building a virtual advisor that uses machine learning to give patients personalised information and advice.

The advisor will begin by looking at the type of cancer the patient is suffering from, the stage of the disease and the treatments administered so far. Using that and other data, it will try to offer care advice and answer patients' questions.

Watson's voice recognition and natural language processing will enable users to ask questions and receive audible responses.

A person with breast cancer, for instance, could ask the advisor what might be causing her pain. Having learned from the experiences of people with similar characteristics, the tool can respond with information about symptoms and options for self care based on the patient's situation.

Over time, the advisor will become increasingly personalised as it learns more about the user, resulting in recommendations that match her preferences, such as for online support groups over telephone calls.

To create the tool, IBM and ACS will tap their massive combined stores of data and use it to train Watson. Included in that data will be's 14,000 pages of detailed information on more than 70 cancer topics as well as the ACS National Cancer Information Center’s aggregated data about self-management, support groups, wellness activities and cancer education.

The tool will also surface insights from IBM's Watson Health Cloud.

"It’s about providing the right information to the right people at the right time,” said Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

More than 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. IBM's effort is one of several in the tech industry that aim to make it easier to share and analyse large amounts of data to help treat patients and, ultimately, advance cures for diseases. Intel has a project called the Collaborative Cancer Cloud, for instance, which will allow hospitals and universities to more easily share genomic, imaging and clinical patient data for research purposes.

Ultimately, ACS and IBM aim to integrate their patient advisor with IBM’s existing Watson for Oncology offering for doctors.

In related news, IBM on Tuesday also launched a new program called the IBM Health Corps that aims to help communities address health challenges around the world.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags virtual advisorAmerican Cancer SocietyIBMWatsoncancer research

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?