ABCpro making a difference for Kiwis with advanced breast cancer
Women living with advanced breast cancer (ABC) in Hamilton have spoken out about how a new tech-based nursing service is making a difference to their lives. ABCpro is the latest innovation designed and funded by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, currently being piloted for patients at Waikato Hospital.
Each year, up to 400 women in New Zealand are diagnosed with ABC, where breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s 2018 report on ABC, I’m Still Here, found the inability to manage ABC symptoms has the most negative impact on a person’s quality of life.1 ABCpro offers patients personalised telehealth nurse support to control cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.
Patients carry out a weekly online survey about their symptoms and a dedicated ABC nurse follows up with a phone call to work through any symptoms that require attention. With patient feedback to date universally positive, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is now recruiting three more hospitals to join the pilot, which will evaluate ABCpro’s effectiveness in reducing symptoms like pain, nausea and sleep problems.
Huia Whitinui (Ngāpuhi, Te Aupōuri), who was diagnosed with ABC last August at the age of 53, said: “I don’t have any control over my breast cancer as I’ve been told it’s not curable, however ABCpro is a tool I can add to my kete which gives me some control back. This is very reassuring for me and I’m grateful to be part of the trial. It’s helped me to learn more about living with an incurable disease, and I hope the service will benefit many others too.”
Joy Wright, who is 55 and has been living with ABC since 2017, said: “Since I started on the ABCpro trial, the nurse has helped me on a number of occasions to come up with plans to deal with my symptoms and help me move past them. One example is finding a way to control my nausea. Together, we figured out I was only getting nausea on an empty stomach, so she advised I should have smaller meals more regularly. By changing the way I eat rather than taking medication, it feels like I’ve been given back some control.”
Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said: “ABC patients have told us that struggling to deal with symptoms has the biggest impact on their quality of life. As the ABCpro pilot rolls out, we’re really encouraged participants are finding it to be an empowering tool which is helping to keep them out of hospital.
“Events like the Covid-19 lockdowns and the cyber-attack on Waikato DHB have shown the need to future-proof the way healthcare is delivered. Telehealth services like ABCpro are an example of how we can innovate. We’re hoping the success of this trial will allow us to introduce ABCpro to all DHBs across the country.”
Dr Marion Kuper-Hommel, clinical director of oncology at Waikato DHB, said: “ABC comes with a complex range of symptoms that need ongoing management – yet these patients often miss out on the nursing support offered in early breast cancer.
“ABCpro is allowing us to standardise care and reduce inequities in treatment. I believe it’s a game-changer that could improve hundreds of lives here in New Zealand, and put us on the map globally as leaders in ABC care.”
International research has shown that the use of electronic patient-reported outcomes (e-PROs) – where patients report symptoms to a nurse between clinical appointments – improved people’s quality of life and reduced unplanned hospital admissions.2
How does ABCpro work?
- Patients complete automated weekly symptom surveys via email or SMS message that are customised to their condition and treatments.
- If a reported symptom exceeds a pre-set threshold (e.g. a change in severity or frequency), the system will send an alert to a nurse with guidelines on how to manage that symptom.
- A nurse will then contact the patient to discuss symptoms and offer recommendations based on the tool’s guidelines, such as advice on how to self-manage the symptom, or a referral to a GP or oncologist.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Karen Louisa Foundation and Health Research Council towards the ABCpro pilot.
1. BCFNZ, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, ”I’m Still Here” - Insights into living – and dying – with Advanced Breast Cancer in New Zealand”, 2018
2. Basch, E. et al, “Symptom Monitoring With Patient-Reported Outcomes During Routine Cancer Treatment”, J Clin Oncol, 2015, 34:557-565