Meet Angie: WhatsApp chatbot for women at risk of hereditary breast cancer

By: News Desk      Published: 08:35 AM, 28 Oct, 2021
WhatsApp chatbot
Representational image.

If you think you might be at risk of breast cancer, there's now a WhatsApp chatbot powered by artificial intelligence that can help answer your questions. 

Angie the chatbot is part of a project by the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) that aims to expand access to genetic counselling.

Women who are suspected of having a genetic predisposition to or are at high risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) can use the chatbot to learn about the syndrome and how genetic testing can help, before they attend their first genetic counselling session at the NCIS Cancer Genetics Clinic.

They can also use the chatbot to complete their family medical history for risk assessment at their convenience.

Currently, those at risk of HBOC are referred directly to the clinic for a genetic counselling session to help them understand the pros and cons of genetic testing and discuss recommended preventive options with an expert.

Prior to this visit, a counsellor will conduct a routine call to collect the patient's family medical history. This call can sometimes take up to an hour.

"During the initial counselling session, many patients may also feel overwhelmed by the amount of information provided and may not be able to make a decision to undergo genetic testing.

"Multiple consultations may be required, which is made more difficult by limitations due to the COVID-19 situation," said NCIS in its press release. 

Angie the chatbot helps to "improve this patient experience" by automating the collecting of family medical records in the form of "bite-sized modules" delivered through WhatsApp

Patients can choose to complete these modules at their own time and upon completion, the chatbot will send over more information about HBOC, cancer genetic testing, and the process of counselling, complemented with visual aids such as infographics and videos.  

Angie has also been trained to respond to frequently asked questions across topics like causes of genetic inheritance of HBOC, screening, risk-reducing strategies and genetic testing cost.

NCIS said it hopes to extend the chatbot service, which was created in partnership with Singapore health tech AI startup Bot MD, to other countries in Asia to help more patients at risk of HBOC to better understand and manage their condition.

“Genetic testing is increasingly recognised as an important consideration in the management of breast cancer patients and family members who are suspected to have HBOC. However, there is still a significant lack of awareness and misconceptions among the public which needs to be addressed by genetic counselling.

"Angie the NCIS ENGAGE chatbot allows us to reach out to patients early, and provide targeted education so that they come for their consultation better-informed and ready to decide on the next step," said Dr Samuel Ow, consultant at NCIS' Department of Haematology-Oncology.–cnalifestyle.com