New digital tool to help Ontarians measure their risk for cancer

Cancer Care Ontario and the provincial government want to educate people on how they can lower their risk of getting cancer – and they’re turning to digital tools to accomplish that.

On Tuesday, Cancer Care Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care launched a new online survey that polls people on their risks for breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancer.

Dubbed “My CancerIQ,” the tool was designed to give people a more general view of how their behaviours might either raise or lower their risk of developing cancer. It’s presented as a five to 10 minute quiz that polls users on their weight, the amount of exercise they get per week, and whether any of their family members have ever received a cancer diagnosis. It also asks about other factors that people might not think about, like how much red meat they eat or how much alcohol they drink.

So why not just run campaigns or present information in ad spots on TV or on the radio? The thinking here is that going digital will help the tool reach the right subset of people, said Alice Peter, director of population health and prevention at Cancer Care Ontario.

“[My CancerIQ] was considered a good medium because it’s targeted towards people in their thirties and up,” she said, adding that people in this age group tend to spend a lot of their time online.

The tool is also highly personalized, Peter added. The reason it polls people on personal questions about their lifestyle is because it was designed to present a more “holistic view” of the risks that can lead to developing cancer.

The survey weighs all of these risk factors and measures them against each other, and it also measures them against average responses of other people of the same age and sex, living in Ontario. Users then receive a personalized action plan that can tell them how to reduce their risk of cancer.

“Most people don’t realize that most cancers are highly preventable,” Peter said. “[With My CancerIQ], now they know what personally to do.”

Among healthcare practitioners, one of the biggest challenges of using digital tools is balancing their utility with the need to protect patient privacy. So in a digital environment where most organizations are constantly collecting data, Cancer Care Ontario has had to do the opposite, deleting users’ responses from the online survey once they close their browsers and not storing any responses on its servers, Peter said.

However, even if the results aren’t collected or stored, the hope is that users of the tool will save them and take them to their family doctors or nurse practitioners. The goal is to spark a discussion on how they can improve their overall health – and in the process, lessen the likelihood of developing cancer, she added.

In 2014, Ontario healthcare providers diagnosed almost 74,000 new cases of cancer in the province, and 28,000 cancer-related deaths were recorded.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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