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Researchers are developing a new online tool to help predict outcomes for cancer patients across Canada

October 18, 2021

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Researchers at Sunnybrook are co-leading a new study to help provide patients with cancer personalized answers to questions about their disease and likely outcomes.

“Current prediction tools only take into account how long someone will live after being diagnosed with cancer,” says Dr. Natalie Coburn, one of the principal investigators of the study and a senior scientist and surgical oncologist in the Odette Cancer Program at Sunnybrook. “With new technology, we can create tools that can help predict other outcomes that are important to patients, such as how they may feel while undergoing treatment, or how many days they will have to visit the hospital for treatment.”

Dr. Coburn says this information will improve patients' ability to talk with doctors, family members and their care team about decisions regarding their cancer.

The project is also being co-led by Dr. Julie Hallet, associate scientist and surgical oncologist in the Odette Cancer Program and Dr. Lesley Gotlib Conn, associate scientist and medical anthropologist in the Tory Trauma Program, alongside researchers from the University of Ottawa, the University of Manitoba, ICES and University Health Network. The study team recently received a $2 million Team Grant from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to support their research.

The team is currently working with patients and caregivers to determine what issues and outcomes matter most when making decisions related to their cancer. The second phase of the project will use anonymized Ontario-wide aggregated data from cancer patients to build prediction algorithms. The study’s findings will culminate in the creation of a validated free online tool that will help predict outcomes for cancer patients across Canada. The tool will be focused on gastrointestinal cancers, but the researchers hope lessons from this project can be applied to other cancers in the future.

A unique and critical component of the large-scale research project is its commitment to patient engagement.

“A cancer diagnosis is life-changing,” says Dr. Hallet. “Our goal is to work closely with patients and caregivers at every step of this project to create a patient-centred tool that will give them the information they need to actively participate in their care decisions to better personalize care.”