Developing digital support tools to help patients navigate cancer treatments


Lancaster University researchers are helping to develop new digital support tools that will help transform patients’ experiences around making decisions about their cancer treatments.

This work sits within the five-year €9 million European Union-funded 4D PICTURE project, led by the Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, which is redesigning care pathways and integrating evidence-based decision-support tools.

The inter-disciplinary research team will develop a new digital conversation tool, entitled ‘MetroMapping’, to help inform decision-making by cancer patients, their significant others, and clinicians to improve personalised care and health outcomes.

Embedding patient experiences at its core, and combining computing, multilingual text-mining, natural language processing, corpus linguistics, and narrative research, MetroMapping will convert the stories of cancer patients’ experiences into usable knowledge for cancer care.

Patients with cancer often have to make difficult decisions based on the risk profiles of their treatment options affecting quality of life and survival. There is often a lot of complex information that patients, and their families, need to obtain and understand quickly.

Recent research has highlighted that inefficient care pathways hinder cancer patients and their significant others in treatment decision-making, which leads to high levels of stress, fear, disempowerment and unwanted dependence on healthcare professionals.

Data-driven decision support tools, such as MetroMapping, have the potential to assist and empower patients in decision-making and improve personalised care, and health outcomes.

The project brings together Paul Rayson, Professor of Natural Language Processing in Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, Professor Elena Semino, from Lancaster University’s Department of Linguistics and English Language, and Professor Sheila Payne and Dr Amarachukwu Nwosu, from Lancaster’s Faculty of Health and Medicine.

Lancaster’s principal investigator on the project, Paul Rayson, said: “Shared decision making will help patients and carers to express their preferences in discussions with health care professionals, and in Lancaster we’re looking forward to creating new multilingual computational linguistics methods to uncover their stories and experiences and convert them into usable actionable knowledge about how they experience their care paths.”

The project follows on from previous work by Lancaster University researchers on the Metaphor in End of Life Care (MELC) project, which looked at the metaphors used in end of life care narratives, for example, how people ‘fight’ their cancer, ‘win’ or ‘lose’ their ‘battle’ against it, or hope for a positive end to their cancer ‘journey’.

Involving teams from 16 partner organisations based in nine countries, 4D PICTURE is funded by the European Union research and innovation programme HORIZON 2021 and is co-ordinated by Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam together with Leiden University Medical Center.

The UK team received funding through Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), under the Horizon Europe Guarantee Programme.

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