Start of new research to develop a risk assessment tool for head and neck cancer

Patients with head and neck cancer are often treated with radiation with or without concomitant chemotherapy. After this treatment, a neck dissection is sometimes planned to remove remaining lymph node metastases in the neck.

In some of these patients, this operation appears to be unnecessary afterwards because there were no longer any cancer cells left in these  removed lymph nodes. “However, oncologists often have difficulty predicting in advance in which patients may not benefit from this surgery,” according to Dr. Leonard Wee, senior researcher and medical physicist at Maastro. “That is why we are going to develop a tool for them. Based on scientific research, they can then make a risk assessment of which patients actually need both treatments, (chemo-) radiotherapy and surgery. ”

Not without danger

Treatments in the head and neck area are not without danger, with radiation and with surgery. “Many patients suffer from dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing, and difficulty with eating and speaking after treatment,” says Dr. Frank Hoebers, radiation-oncologist at Maastro. “We want to reduce the side effects as well as the chance of the tumour recurrence. If we can reduce the treatment of these patients to only (chemo-)radiotherapy and avoid unnecessary surgery, the surrounding healthy tissue will suffer considerably less damage. This will positively influence the quality of life of the patient. ”

Securing privacy

Maastro will use the “Personal Health Train” for this research. The initiator and creator of this is Prof.Dr.Ir. Andre Dekker from Maastro. “The Personal Health Train enables us to submit software with the research question to the affiliated institutes,” says Leonard Wee. “They then perform an analysis in their database with the help of complex, self-learning algorithms. The privacy of the patients remains fully guaranteed because the personal data of the patients remains inside the institutions themselves.”


Artificial intelligence

Maastro recently received a € 400,000 grant from the Hanarth Fund for this research. Maastro’s research fits in perfectly with the objectives of this fund. The Hanarth Fund wants to promote and improve the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the diagnosis, treatment and outcome for cancer patients. The fund supports scientific research that focuses on rare forms of cancer, such as throat cancer.