In Cyprus, breast cancer incidence is growing year by year with 600 women diagnosed annually. There is a lack of appropriate information and support for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients, which compromises the quality of life of women and their families. Making use of innovative approaches such as an avatar-based platform will enable patients to better manage symptoms and access information in a tailored and effective way.
The major unmet needs of this population include the management of symptoms like fatigue, pain, appetite loss, but also more personal issues like sexuality and getting the right information regarding their treatment options. Meeting the needs of MBC patients will improve their quality of life and positively impact their response to treatment and survival.
The University of Cyprus (UCY) is a young and rapidly expanding university. With experience in developing an avatar-based platform for a smoking cessation campaign which has proven to deliver strong results, UCY is partnering with the Breast Cancer Centre of Cyprus. Through this experience and collaboration, the University is uniquely positioned to create an avatar-based platform to serve MBC patients across the country.
UCY was awarded a SPARC award in October 2019 as part of the Round 3 cohort of 11 new grantees. The proposed project aims to support women with MBC following the diagnosis by developing an avatar-based web tool. Avatars are digital self-representations, which enable individuals to interact with each other in computer-based virtual environments. Avatars provide a personalised and private experience which can provide useful information in interventions within a short time frame. The project will bring together academics, clinicians, policymakers and patients with an emphasis on influencing care provision.
"This SPARC grant will help us develop a novel digital tool that women living with metastatic breast cancer can use to guide them through their treatment pathway and at the same time help them to cope with changes in their lives. We hope that this can be an important step to meet their unmet needs."
In the first phase the project will build upon the previous SPARC project of Europa Donna Cyprus (project awarded in 2017), in which psychosocial needs of women living with MBC in Cyprus were studied. Based on these findings, the study of the unmet needs of MBC patients will be carried out by surveying focus groups. In the second phase of this project and based on the findings, the web platform, which will be called, ‘GIFTED’, will be designed. It will inform patients on their care and therapeutic options, providing provide short interventions based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to optimise symptom management and quality of life. The platform will be available in Greek and in English.
It is estimated that this project will not only increase the quality of life of patients living with MBC in Cyprus but can also serve to support MBC patients abroad. The tool that is to be developed will be disseminated and used in the main breast cancer organisations of the country (The Breast Centre of Cyprus, Bank of Cyprus Oncology Centre and Europa Donna) and will aim at integrating the national health system.
In the future, following the project, UCY aims to reach out to organisations in other countries to enable the tool to be used in other countries and adapted to cultural differences, allowing for more MBC patients to be supported.
(Information from the project description and context is compiled from the grant application)