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The use of Big Data in early identification of other diseases associated with cancers

Researchers in Taiwan collected large volumes of patient data so that they could look closely at whether some medical conditions and types of cancer were linked.


Using ‘big data’ and a computer programme, the team analysed how often a particular disease occurred with each cancer and whether certain cancers could therefore be predicted.


Seventeen million new cancers were detected around the world in 2018 and this number has continued to grow. These cancers can affect anyone – friends, neighbours, teachers, workmates, relatives and you. Cancer can affect people physically, mentally, or both. There are huge personal, social, and financial costs to everyone.

Many people know that finding a cancer early can give a better chance of being cured. If doctors knew what other illnesses occurred with each type of cancer, they could detect and treat those illnesses early and this may prevent the cancer from happening.

What data was used?

The data (information) collected was from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Database between January 2000 and December 2002. After an initial collection period of two years, the records were updated every three years to look closely at what diseases and cancers were linked. The data included outpatient visits, dental visits, hospitalisations, prescribed medications, laboratory and imaging examinations and operations. It contained anonymised data about diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes from patient records. The research included their age and whether they were male or female. Scientists used computers to find trends of how often a disease occurred with each cancer and whether certain cancers could be predicted.

What did the research find?

Over time, 782 million outpatient visits showed that there were nine major cancers that occurred alongside other diseases.

What is the impact on patients?

The scientists were able to use ’Big Data’ (very large volumes) of patient records (without identifying individual patients) to look at diseases before a cancer was diagnosed and diseases after a cancer diagnosis. Doctors could use the results to improve a patient’s quality of life and life expectancy because they are more aware of what other diseases the patient is at risk from. The diseases could then be treated to prevent associated cancers developing in the future. They are also able to look at what diseases may occur after a cancer diagnosis so a patient may be screened early and treated.

Patient view

This way of looking at large numbers of patient records has a great value to doctors and patients as shared data can show national and international trends that may improve treatments, care, outcomes and quality of life for patients.

Sue Trant, midwife and cancer survivor

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

Several Taiwan ministries and universities provided research grants, including the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Further information

Scientific research paper: Cancer-disease associations: A visualization and animation through medical big data