Institute of Information and Communication Technologies (ITACA)

Cancerless: Empowering the Homeless in the Fight Against Cancer

A team from the UPV participates in a European project for Early Cancer Diagnosis and Overcoming Healthcare Disparities Among Homeless Populations

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Europe among the general population, and mortality doubles among the homeless population. This is due, among other factors, to significant barriers these individuals face when trying to access healthcare systems and various risk behaviours, such as smoking. CANCERLESS aims to reduce mortality rates and provide better care for homeless people by facilitating access to the healthcare system. This European research project includes the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), through the BDSLAB group of the ITACA Institute.

«The goal of all project partners is to help prevent cancer and enable early diagnosis in the homeless population, as well as to overcome healthcare inequalities,» highlights Mª José Cardona, researcher at the BDSLAB-ITACA of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

The project is developing an innovative methodology, the Health Navigator Model. «It’s like a ‘big brother’ at the patient’s service. This is a model based on evidence that facilitates patient empowerment through health education and social support and promotes timely access to primary and secondary prevention services,» the project partners explain.

Four pilot studies and microsimulations with tailor-made patients

Within the framework of this project, four pilot studies have been conducted in different cities – Madrid, London, Vienna, and the Greek region of Attica, collecting data from a comprehensive questionnaire – always anonymized – from homeless people. This questionnaire included questions of both sociodemographic and medical nature; it also covered risk behaviours – for example, levels of tobacco, alcohol, or psychoactive substance use, and sports activities, among many others. And it was completed with an assessment of the support received from the «big brother» conceived within the project.

And it’s in processing all this information that the UPV research team involved in the project is working. «The information that was available about homeless people is qualitative. This project has created a highly valuable database, enabling a hugely valuable statistical analysis of this population. And not only that, because with this information, we can generate microsimulations in different patient models to see the effects of the intervention of those ‘big brothers’,» adds Vicent Blanes, a researcher at BDSLAB-ITACA of the UPV.

Thus, BDSLAB-ITACA generates tailor-made synthetic patients and, through these statistical microsimulations, checks the results of one intervention or another and compares them with other people/virtual models of different characteristics. «With all this, we can predict the usefulness or not of public policies in favour of better care and diagnosis for homeless people,» concludes Vicent Blanes.

Risk factors, social support, and training

Within the framework of this project, a study has found a higher prevalence of various cancer-associated risk factors among homeless people, with tobacco use being the most common, ranging from 26% to 73%.

The results highlight the importance of interventions to facilitate cancer prevention services through social support and training healthcare personnel in creating supportive and trustworthy environments that increase the likelihood of continuity of care among homeless people.
One of the most notable European projects

The European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) highlighted the project as one of the most relevant on World Cancer Day, celebrated last February 4th. Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, Cancerless is coordinated by the Medical University of Vienna and involves eleven partners. The project will conclude next May.

Source: UPV’s Communication Area

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