A Conversation with Prof. Dr. Uwe Wittel

In conversations with Prof. Dr. Uwe Wittel on second opinions, challenges of information asymmetry, and AI-based innovation in cancer research 

Dr. Uwe Wittel is a surgical oncologist, Executive Attending Physician, and Head of the Pancreas Centre at the University of Freiburg, Germany. With a long history of treating cancer patients, specifically pancreatic cancer, and comprehensive research experience, Dr. Wittel knows well the challenges facing both patients and the healthcare industry when it comes to cancer. 

In our interview with him, he covers key topics such as the importance of a second opinion for cancer, how patients can differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ information, and the innovation in the cancer industry which could bring us closer to a cure for cancer. Take a read, or watch the interviews here: https://bit.ly/3F93LvN 

In your experience, what is one of the biggest problems patients are facing when they come to you?

Dr. Wittel:  Information is a huge problem. There’s so much information and also so much false or manipulated information that it’s difficult for a patient to differentiate between good and bad sources and data quality. For example, when a patient hears about a new therapy through the wrong sources, they may have their hopes dashed when they find out it’s not suitable for them, and they get promises which can’t be fulfilled.

How important is it for patients and carers to obtain accurate information? 

Dr. Wittel:  At the beginning of a cancer patient’s journey, we set the path on how the cancer therapy will run. Especially at this time, it’s extremely important for the patient to have unbiased information. A surgeon and medical oncologist will give different opinions, and there will be a plethora of information online which says something else. A patient needs access to unbiased information to feel empowered to decide between the options that are on offer, and bring up other possibilities in discussion with their oncologist. 

Why would a second opinion be needed? Are patients asking for a second opinion? 

Dr. Wittel: Generally, people want to collect different opinions. The patient receives a diagnosis and a recommendation for therapy, and then they or their relatives want to find out what other options there could be. Usually, it’s not the case that a patient mistrusts their oncologist, though that’s what many may think. 

A second opinion is important, as different specialists will have different views. If you are consulted by a surgical oncologist, they will likely recommend surgery, a radiologist may lean towards radiology, and if you go to the medical oncologist, they might suggest chemotherapy.

A lot of patients, and their carers, will seek a second opinion from another expert. They gather a lot of information, however, the main difficulty comes in judging the value of that information. Despite this, a second opinion should be a normal part of a patient’s cancer journey.

How can patients benefit from using the CuriaTM app? 

Dr. Wittel: CuriaTM has the benefit of being completely unbiased with its information. Access to information from the comfort of a patient’s own home, independent of bias or angle, is hugely beneficial to help patients make the important, life-changing decisions cancer brings. 

What are the main challenges the healthcare industry faces today? 

Dr. Wittel: When I started working in oncology about 15 years ago, we only had one chemotherapy, but now we have several new drugs, including targeted therapies that are being used in pancreatic cancer. The swift acceleration however in new therapies makes it difficult for oncologists and patients to keep up with the pace and know which therapies are the latest available. 

What is innovative in the healthcare industry?

Dr. Wittel: The artificial intelligence (AI) approach is very innovative in the healthcare industry. Using AI, we’re looking at solving problems in oncology by using medical data which patients can provide themselves. What we need though is that the data gets validated, that we don’t generate correlations that cannot be confirmed again in a study or cohort of patients. One way is to develop backwards clinical trials. The hypotheses can be built from the patient’s data and the AI assumptions and proven with additional research. 

Dr. Uwe Wittel has highlighted that by helping patients become informed and providing access to the right resources, we can build better cancer care for the individual. Resources may include a second opinion, digital therapeutics, or just a peer to share experiences with. In addition, AI, paired together with insights from patients, will accelerate research for cancer cures. A collaborative approach together with patients, researchers and healthcare professionals is the only way we can truly drive forward a future where cancer is curable.