Lung cancer kills more people than malignancies of the breast, colon and prostate combined. Yet the management of early signs of lung cancer is often haphazard -- manual tracking of potentially pre-cancerous lung “nodules” sometimes still relies on spreadsheets and sticky notes.

Now two large health care products companies, Medtronic PLC and Koninklijke Philips N.V, are teaming up to develop and sell a new patient-management system intended to streamline tracking and early identification of patients who show early signs of lung cancer.

Once commercialized, the LungGPS Patient Management Platform from Medtronic and Philips will allow doctors and patients to closely monitor potentially cancerous “nodules” from diagnosis to treatment to long-term survivorship. The companies have not revealed when the system might be released or any financial details behind their deal, which was announced Jan. 30.

"Lung cancer rates haven't changed much over the past three decades,” Medtronic Lung Health General Manager Matt Anderson said in a press release. “It's time we think differently about how we're going to tackle this disease and bring lung health care into the twenty-first century."

Early-stage lung cancer has few symptoms, but one things doctors look for is a knot of tissue in the lung called a “nodule” that shows up as a dark spot on a chest x-ray.

A guide on nodules from the Mayo Clinic says nodules in the lungs are relatively common, and most are not cancerous. A larger nodule, such as one more than 30 mm wide, is more likely to be cancerous than a smaller one. If the nodule hasn’t changed in size or appears after two years, it’s probably by cancerous, the Mayo Clinic guide says.

But monitoring nodules over a period of years can be difficult, with busy patients treated in a highly fragmented health care system. Medtronic and Philips said studies have shown the majority of patients with “incidental nodule identification” don’t receive appropriate followup care.

Medtronic and Philips plan to release a system that will integrate hospital data, patient management and “clinical workflows” to make it easier to identify and manage incidental-nodule patients in disparate hospital information systems, the companies’ announcement says.

Together, the two companies will combine their collective technology and skills in medical imaging, informatics and image-guided interventions. The LungGPS system will use artificial intelligence to perform natural-language searches on various medical reports, and it will also include existing lung-cancer screening programs offered by the Philips subsidiary Invivo.

“Early identification and prompt, appropriate management of pulmonary nodule patients has been proven to improve clinical outcomes. Developing technological solutions to enable our customers to do this quickly, efficiently and consistently continues to be our focus,” Philips Oncology Solutions head Brent Berthy said

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