Revealing the impact of social circumstances on the selection of cancer therapy through natural language processing of social work notes

by   Shenghuan Sun, et al.

We aimed to investigate the impact of social circumstances on cancer therapy selection using natural language processing to derive insights from social worker documentation. We developed and employed a Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) based approach, using a hierarchical multi-step BERT model (BERT-MS) to predict the prescription of targeted cancer therapy to patients based solely on documentation by clinical social workers. Our corpus included free-text clinical social work notes, combined with medication prescription information, for all patients treated for breast cancer. We conducted a feature importance analysis to pinpoint the specific social circumstances that impact cancer therapy selection. Using only social work notes, we consistently predicted the administration of targeted therapies, suggesting systematic differences in treatment selection exist due to non-clinical factors. The UCSF-BERT model, pretrained on clinical text at UCSF, outperformed other publicly available language models with an AUROC of 0.675 and a Macro F1 score of 0.599. The UCSF BERT-MS model, capable of leveraging multiple pieces of notes, surpassed the UCSF-BERT model in both AUROC and Macro-F1. Our feature importance analysis identified several clinically intuitive social determinants of health (SDOH) that potentially contribute to disparities in treatment. Our findings indicate that significant disparities exist among breast cancer patients receiving different types of therapies based on social determinants of health. Social work reports play a crucial role in understanding these disparities in clinical decision-making.


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