According to statistics from Cancer Council Australia, prostate cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Australia. With one in five Australian men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85, 19,000 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2013.
Despite these numbers, the journey for those diagnosed with prostate cancer can more often than not be a lonely one – unlike, say, breast cancer, which has an entire month each year and various initiatives and organisations dedicated to raising awareness of it, raising funding for its research, and otherwise helping to ensure that patients do not feel alone, prostate cancer is not often discussed.
This reflects wider attitudes among men in regards to their health, and doing something about it and talking about it.
A survey of 500 men conducted by a clinic in Cleveland last year found that 53 percent of respondents would simply never discuss their health; rather, 36 percent stated they would be more likely to discuss current events, 32 percent prefer to talk sports, or work, with just seven percent stating they would talk about their health with their male friends.
Studies have also found men are more reluctant to go to the doctor and seek care.
Looking to make the journey easier for patients of prostate cancer is Prostmate, a platform developed by Australian Prostate Cancer Research (APCR) and collaborators including Cancer Council Australia, St George Hospital, and Edith Cowan University.
An online program looking to give men with prostate cancer and their families access to tailored support, Prostmate gives users access to information, allows them to track and monitor their various test results and physical well being, and connect to a network of clinicians and allied health professionals for online consultations.
Mark Harrison, CEO of APCR, said the program came about as a result of research conducted by the organisation, which identified a significant unmet need among men and their families in dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
The Prostmate platform, which begins the personalisation process when a new user signs on, includes a central space to find information tailored to the stage a patient is at, a section to log treatments, appointments, and results, a system that asks the user how they are to monitor their progress over time, and a portal to have tele-consultations with specialists.
Developed with the assistance of philanthropic donations and trusts, the platform has had 5,000 users so far engage at various stages of their journey with prostate cancer.
“Learnings from the first phase of development have focused on the provision of further personalised information, integration to other health ecosystems, and additional enhancement of virtual consultations,” Harrison said.
Virtual or telehealth consultations in particular are a key point, given the studies around men not seeking care; Prostmate has also identified rural patients as particularly in need of the platform.
“In Australia, men with prostate cancer face difficulties accessing the right clinical advice and support, particularly those living in rural and remote areas. Prostmate hopes to address this unmet need by making this support easily accessible to all those who need it, no matter where they live,” Harrison said.
Here the organisation has been looking to the way larger healthcare organisations in the United States have addressed similar problems around connecting to rural-based patients.
This collaboration has been supported in part by APCR’s winning a grant through the Astellas C3 Prize last year, a global challenge run by Astellas Pharma with the aim of inspiring changes cancer care by finding non-medicine innovations that may improve the lives of patients with cancer, their caregivers and their loved ones.
As part of its prize, APCR was also given a year’s membership to MATTER, a community of researchers and entrepreneurs working in the healthcare space.
“Receiving the C3 Prize grant last year demonstrates Australia’s leadership in developing world-class solutions for cancer care on a global stage,” Harrison said.
“The C3 awards provided us with the opportunity to share our experience and learn from other innovators that would ultimately help us elevate Prostmate to another level. The experience and learning environment the C3 prize has offered our organisation is something that we could not have achieved through our means; we would encourage others to commit to the journey and learn from the experience as we have.”
The need for greater support for cancer patients has also been identified by other startups. Founded by a group of Sydney doctors, CancerAid is a platform individualising the information provided to cancer patients. Working in conjunction with their clinicians, the app ensures the information a patient receives is specifically in line with their diagnosis and treatment path.
Looking ahead, APCR will look to further enhance the Prostmate platform through developments including further integration of remote consultations, and expansion of its clinical services support.
Harrison said, “With the grant money and year membership to Matter, we plan to focus on understanding how best to extend the reach and range of Prostmate to the benefit of any individual irrespective of location. Once this work is complete we envisage in early 2018 to release further system updates together with an extensive distribution strategy.”
Image: Mark Harrison. Source: Supplied.