Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. According to the World Health Organization, almost two million women worldwide will be diagnosed in 2018 and it is expected to affect 3 out of 10 people in the world, meaning that 1 out of 8 women will develop the disease at some point in their lives. Although these figures are alarming, almost 90% of the cases identified in this century have been cured. However, the survival rate has not always been optimistic but it has increased considerably over the past four decades.
Anna Buhigas loves spending time with her family, travelling and feeling that her life is full of new challenges. She has a degree in Spanish Philology, a profession that she practised early on in her career. After completing an MSc in Computer Science at the University of Kent, she re-focused her career toward the technology field. She began her career in London, at the IT department of a retail sector company, and she joined everis upon her return to Barcelona. She has spent 18 years in different positions and responsibilities in the company, first as a consultant in the Public Sector department and later in business support areas. She is currently the Global Head of IT & Organization and CIO of everis.
Anna was told she had cancer in September 2011, after she noticed a lump a few months after her last mammogram. Her first reaction was a flurry of sensations, feelings, fear and uncertainty. After the initial scare, she was determined to deal with it with normality. "I was so frightened that the first few days I couldn't think clearly. I remember unreal days while I was being tested to see if the cancer had spread and how hard it was to explain what was happening to my loved ones. I only began to recover when I received the diagnosis and knew that if everything went well I would survive”.
Anna's experience brings up an interesting issue about what happens as people progress through the successive stages of treatment and, above all, when they have to return to their previous life.
"Physically, cancer has left a mark on me. But my scale of values is now clearly different from my earlier priorities. I found it really difficult to jump back into my previous life, especially in the professional world, which is so fast-paced and depersonalised in terms of relationships". Flexibility and work/life balance policies implemented in companies are therefore of vital importance. These measures, which include offering flexible working hours, teleworking and the fact that the company pays a full salary in the event of a sick leave, are extremely important in these difficult times.
"Cancer is a tough experience, but the process doesn't end when treatments end. You go back to the office, everyone thinks you're ready for action and you just feel weak. You can't even recognise yourself physically, and you feel very vulnerable".
Cancer technology: nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and big data
The persistent fight against the growth of the disease is also present in the field of technology and it seems that technological research and early detection are almost a synaesthesia.
A high percentage of women living in developed countries know that early detection is critical. Mammograms, which by consensus in the medical community are recommended annually from the age of 40, are diagnostic tests with years of proven effectiveness in early detection. "When I hear a woman say she hasn't had a mammogram in years, it makes me sad. How can that be when, unfortunately, we all know people who have had breast cancer?", Anna states. Artificial intelligence improves detection, among many other things, by educating machines. Thanks to AI, the reliability of mammography has gone from 88% to 91% in terms of accuracy in the detection of cancer cells. Devices feature new algorithms, providing more and more accurate information and color images that help distinguish between healthy and cancer cells and reduce the number of false diagnoses.
In addition to Artificial intelligence, Big Data also contributes to creating advanced data analysis models that extract the maximum information about a patient's tumour in the earliest stages of the disease. It also allows including genetic information along with the medical image to help determine the right treatment.
"Although attitude is essential, and perhaps the most important thing to survive the ordeal, it is not everything. As your treatment advances, you become clearly aware of the importance of medical advances and technology in your diagnosis and quality of life".
Nanotechnology is the field of study that analyzes and designs applications for materials, devices and systems to control matter at a nanoscale level, i.e., at the atomic and molecular level. In the case of tumors, and through the gestation of nanomedicines, it has helped to find cancer cells that cannot be distinguished from the others and usually lead to cancer metastasis, which is the scariest stage for any person diagnosed.
The importance of immunotherapy and personalized treatments
Beyond the technological environment, today the word immunotherapy has become synonymous with optimism. As a concept, immunotherapy is the use of the patient's own immune system to attack tumor cells, usually by mixing the use of antibodies and drugs.
"My diagnosis was greatly improved by a drug that was first used in 1998, only 13 years before I became ill. Without it, given the aggressiveness of my tumor and its rapid growth, I don't know if I would be here today", Anna explains.
In early October, all media outlets echoed the news that James Allison, researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo, known for having identified programmed cell death protein 1, received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing key research for the development of new anti-cancer therapies. Both men are regarded as the fathers of immunotherapy.
Global headlines were made this month as well when a metastatic breast cancer was treated successfully for the first time, thanks to an experimental immunotherapy treatment developed by the National Cancer Institute of Maryland in the United States. The patient was Judy Perkins, a woman with metastases in different parts of her body. Overnight, she became the poster child of hope for advanced breast cancer. The treatment involved pumping 90 billion cancer-killing immune cells into her body. Hopefully, there will soon be many Judys sharing their story. And many Annas.
Today, more than ever, in everis we are proud to develop and support the talent that improve the quality of life for people, while at the same time, making the world a better place. How do we do it?
With the everis Awards
2018 - Semifinalist project, RUBYnanomed (Spain): A non-invasive system to monitor, in real-time, the progression of the cancer. Learn more.
2017 - Semifinalist project, Pegasemp (Portugal): Nanoparticle targeting tumor cells to provide a safe and efficient treatment to cancer. Learn more.
2018 - Finalist project, Higia Technologies (Mexico): A device developed to detect early stages of breast cancer, in a more efficient manner. Learn more.