June 29, 2012
Colorectal cancer patients must receive adequate follow-up care after their treatment is over to ensure any cancer recurrence is detected early, but many of those patients are currently not adhering to the recommended guidelines, say researchers. A new research project funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation and Sanofi Canada aims to improve the chances of early diagnosis if the cancer returns and save lives across the province.
"Something is clearly missing when it comes to stage 2 and 3 colorectal cancer patients in Alberta," says Dr. Jennifer Spratlin, medical oncologist at Alberta Health Service's Cross Cancer Institute and co-investigator on the project. "We know that if we follow these patients once they are discharged from their cancer care health team, we will be able to improve patient outcomes and ultimately, save lives."
Prior to 2007, patients at the Cross Cancer Institute were sent home with recommendations for blood tests every three months, a CT scan at one and three years, and lifelong colonoscopies. Patients and their family doctors were also sent letters outlining the recommendations. Spratlin conducted a study to see how people were adhering to the recommendations and found that only a staggering 7.2 per cent of patients were getting the suggested tests.
Based on these findings, the Cross Cancer Institute implemented changes, including a clinic that booked appointments for patients. A follow-up study determined that as a result, adherence had risen to 49.5 per cent, which meant half of the patients still weren't seeking adequate care. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre also added its own interventions with similar results.
Healthcare leader Sanofi Canada learned of the opportunity to be involved with a colorectal cancer surveillance program, with the goal of reaching 90 per cent adherence to follow-up guidelines and capturing recurrence when a cure is still possible. The company partnered with the Alberta Cancer Foundation with a $105,000 investment to support the research program over the next three years. The Alberta Cancer Foundation also contributed $175,000 to support data analysis at both the Cross Cancer Institute and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Alberta Health Services - Cancer Care's two main cancer centres.
"Improvement of patient health outcomes requires not only the best of innovative medications and diagnostic techniques, but the whole healthcare continuum," says Dr. Stanislav Glezer, VP Evidence, Value and Access at Sanofi Canada. "Contributing to more effective screening and follow-up programs is one of the ways Sanofi Canada is focusing on patients' needs."
"The Alberta Cancer Foundation is the only Alberta-based foundation with a mandate to facilitate improved outcomes and quality of life for Albertans facing cancer," says Alberta Cancer Foundation CEO Myka Osinchuk. "Making sure that Albertans have access to the most effective evidence-based surveillance programs is key to improving patient outcomes."
Examples of the improved surveillance program include patient education, patient journals, workshops for family physicians, advanced nurse practitioner follow up and data collection. The research team also believes this program will decrease waiting times to see an oncologist since follow-up care will be done through other routes and make room for those cancer patients needing primary care. Levels of satisfaction may also improve as patients become more engaged with their own
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