In a new trial, cancer patients across the UK have been using the eRAPID technology system to help them manage their cancer symptoms.
The system has been developed by the University of Leeds, and this is the first trial to offer automated advice to early-stage patients whose treatment aims to cure cancer. Hundreds of early-stage colorectal, breast, or gynaecological cancer patients took part in the trial which used computer algorithms to help manage their symptoms and improve their wellbeing. They were able to report online symptoms from home and receive instant advice on whether to self-manage or seek medical attention.
The trial has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and aimed to establish whether management of symptoms could be improved using automated advice. The trial included 508 patients aged 18 to 86 who were starting chemotherapy at Leeds Cancer Centre.
Managing cancer symptoms
Cancer can cause a range of different symptoms for patients living with the disease, as well as from the side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, which are sometimes life-threatening and all of which lower a patients’ quality of life. Better monitoring and management of these symptoms can help in improving treatment delivery and reducing patients’ physical distress.
All patients in the trial received their usual care, with 256 receiving the eRAPID system as additional care. The patients reported better symptom control and physical wellbeing in the early weeks of treatment, with the system preventing symptom deterioration in about 9% of patients after 12 weeks.
Dr Kate Absolom, University Academic Fellow in the Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James’s and the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences at the University of Leeds, said: “The encouraging results from this study will help pave the way for future development and refinement of these interventions in broader cancer settings. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need and speeded a shift towards technology-enabled care, so these study results are very timely.”
A cost-effective solution
On the system, patients registered 3,314 online reports, reporting 18,867 individual symptoms. Emergency alerts were sent 29 times (under 1%), while serious symptoms not requiring immediate medical attention were reported on 461 occasions (14%). More than 80% of self-reported symptoms triggered self-management advice. The results demonstrate that improvements to patients’ physical wellbeing can be achieved in a cost-effective way without increasing clinicians’ workload.
Programme lead Professor Galina Velikova, at the Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James’s, University of Leeds, and the Leeds Cancer Centre, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Rising numbers of cancer patients are receiving a range of anti-cancer treatments which means patients are living longer and require longer periods of care and monitoring.
“Remote online monitoring options have the potential to be a patient-centred, safe, and effective approach to support patients during cancer treatment and manage the growing clinical workload for cancer care.”