European consortium tests intervention aimed at improving the quality of life of older cancer patients

An innovative intervention for older cancer patients, which has a “navigator” to bridge the gap between the health system, social system and other services in the community according to the needs of the patient and family, will be implemented and tested in six countries. European countries, including Portugal, as part of a research project that has just received six million euros in funding.

The project, calledEU NAVIGATE – Implementation and evaluation of the navigation intervention for older people with cancer and their family caregivers: a pragmatic and international randomized clinical trial”, will be carried out by a consortium that brings together teams of researchers from Belgium (the country coordinator), Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Portugal.

In Portugal, the study is coordinated by two specialists in palliative care from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC), Bárbara Gomes and Maja de Brito, who are part of the research centres Institute for Clinical and Biomedical Research (ICBR) and Center for Innovative Biomedicine and Biotechnology (CIBB). Vítor Rodrigues, professor at FMUC and current president of the Regional Nucleus of the Center of the Portuguese League Against Cancer, also participates, an institution that will play an important role in the training and coordination of “navigators”.

In general, the project translates into a monitoring program for older cancer patients, aged 70 or over, and their family «throughout the course of the disease, including the end of life, by a person – named “navigator ” – who is not part of the patient’s clinical team, who may or may not be a health professional (maybe a volunteer), and whose objective is to identify the needs of the patient and family and help meet those needs with existing support, in collaboration with health professionals, other professional technicians and the local community», explain the coordinators of the Portuguese team.»

«The purpose of this navigation is to promote the quality of life and well-being of the patient and family, as well as to reduce health-related suffering. The “navigator” also aims to empower patients and their families so that access to health care, social support and other resources is timely and equitable. We are interested in accompanying the patient throughout the course of the disease, ensuring continuity of care», they highlight.

To assess the impacts of the intervention, such as the implementation process, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, a clinical trial will be carried out in the six countries participating in the study, involving 532 patients and their family caregivers. In Portugal, 89 patients participate.

The main objective of the project, according to Bárbara Gomes and Maja de Brito, is «to reduce the symptomatic burden (physical and psychosocial), improve the quality of life and the well-being of older cancer patients and their families. We would like to see patients and their families more empowered and confident in decision-making and communication with healthcare professionals.»

«Based on previous evidence showing that these types of interventions remove barriers to accessing care, we expect access to supportive care, survival care, palliative care and end-of-life care to be earlier, better in terms of quality and more egalitarian», they add.

The researchers also mention that, from a scientific point of view, this research will «generate evidence on the care model specifically designed for older people with cancer, centred on the patient and their family. We will work to make this model effective and transferable to different health systems in the European context».

Bearing in mind that Europe «is an aged continent and knowing that the number of cancer patients aged 70 and over is increasing, at the society level, we believe that the project has the potential to improve the quality of life. in a group of patients that is growing in number and has increased needs, exacerbated by the pandemic, many of which are not met, compared to younger patients», they conclude.

The EU NAVIGATE project has a duration of five years and was approved with the maximum score within the scope of a competition launched by the “Cluster Health of Horizon Europe”, a European Union program for the financing of research and innovation.

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