Pedal power is helping to re-shape the monitoring of head and neck cancers in a bid to improve care for patients, particularly those in rural and regional areas.
Dr Fiona Crawford-Williams and her collaborative research team from Flinders University and the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, including Dr Charmaine Woods, have been announced as recipients of funds to be raised from Tour de Cure’s upcoming SA Discovery Tour in April 2023.
Their research will explore how current head and neck cancer monitoring programs could be changed to improve equity and access to care, especially for patients living remotely.
More than 17,000 Australians are living with head and neck cancers, which refer to a range of cancers occurring in the head and neck region – including in the mouth, throat, voice box, salivary glands, sinuses, and muscles or nerves. For some people these cancers can severely impact daily functions such as breathing, eating, talking, hearing and smell.
With most cancer recurrences occurring within five years of treatment, the Australian guidelines for head and neck cancer monitoring recommend multiple in-person clinical reviews every year, usually carried out at a major metropolitan treatment centre.
Dr Crawford-Williams says this research will explore the barriers patients encounter to attend these post-treatment monitoring appointments, particularly for those living in rural and regional areas.
“Head and neck cancer monitoring can carry a significant financial burden for the patient, who may require many presentations each year to a major metropolitan treatment centre,” Dr Crawford-Williams says.
“Each monitoring visit requires the patient and their carer to organise time off work, modify childcare arrangements, and incur travel and sometimes accommodation costs…and we’re asking them to do this multiple times each year.
“Unfortunately, patients who have difficulty accessing care may delay or not attend their appointment and may let symptoms go longer before seeking care.
“This can mean options for treatment may be limited, or more intensive surgery is needed, if a cancer recurrence is detected.”
To improve accessibility for all patients, the research team will propose a re-design of the current head and neck cancer monitoring process to address the barriers patients face in cancer surveillance. This work will be carried out in collaboration with Flinders Medical Centre’s Ear Nose and Throat team – led by Dr Woods and Associate Professor Eng Ooi.
It includes seeking the views of clinicians and patients on whether using technologies such as telehealth appointments and electronic symptom monitoring, and linking in with local GP services, could provide options to support cancer monitoring for some patients, some of the time.
“Having a head and neck cancer monitoring system that registers patient symptoms and then signals if the patient may be suitable for a telehealth or GP-assisted review, could remove the need for patients to take time away from work and family to travel hundreds of kilometres, sometimes several times a year, for a relatively brief in-person hospital appointment,” Dr Woods says.