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16th November 2015

Personalised web advice for cancer detection

A new online tool from the University of Manchester could reduce the time between when patients detect cancer symptoms and actually go to the doctor
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Currently, many people rely on the internet to provide them with information as to whether symptoms they may be expressing are something to worry about.

However, this information is often inaccurate and can either lead to heightened anxiety over something minor like a common cold or, at the other end of the spectrum, downplays serious symptoms.

A study by the British Journal of Cancer this year also found that around 35 per cent of cancer patients had waited too long to see their doctor when they felt embarrassed by their symptoms. Delayed visits to the GP can often result from use of the internet to self-diagnose, especially in the case of symptoms that a patient may feel uncomfortable about.

This provided a team from the University of Manchester with the motivation to trial a new tool designed to get potential lung cancer patients to a doctor earlier.

The team of researchers behind the new online tool are from the School of Nursing and are led by Julia Mueller, who told that: “people often talk about ‘Dr Google,’ but web information, even from reputable sources such as the NHS, is general in nature.”

The software, called When2Go, is an online cancer detection tool that will allow people to successfully discuss their symptoms and provide personalised advice. It works by asking people increasingly specific questions about symptoms they are displaying, allowing the software to build up a profile of what may be affecting the person.

The collection of answers provided then result in a recommendation for the person to visit their GP or not.

Mueller also stressed that: “the earlier a diagnosis of cancer takes place, the better the chances for the patient.

“The software isn’t designed to alarm people, but instead provide a better alternative to the general advice available online.”

The software is still in its trial stage, and Mueller and her fellow researchers are currently looking for people to try out the software. In order to take part, participants must be displaying symptoms such as a recurring chest infection, unexplained weight loss or a loss of appetite, a long-standing cough, or changes in appearance of the fingernails.

Displaying any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have lung cancer, but the When2Go tool aims to make it easier for patients to know if it’s worth paying a visit to a doctor.

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