Belfast researchers release new cancer data tool

3 Aug 2021

Dr Anna Gavin, Northern Ireland cancer registry centre for public health at Queen’s University Belfast. Image: Queen’s University Belfast

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have launched a software tool that can collect and compare cancer staging data worldwide.

A new software tool to capture worldwide cancer data has been developed at Queen’s University Belfast.

CanStaging+ is a user-friendly tool which can record and compare cancer data using simplified software that harnesses new digital technology.

It was developed by researchers at Queen’s with the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR), the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Union for International Cancer Control.

Cancer staging refers to the extent of the spread of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, and it is a crucial factor in determining the level of care and clinical intervention required by individual patients.

The collection of staging data at population-level can provide health systems with information on how to optimise their cancer management campaigns. It is currently done by population-based cancer registries, but because there is such a large variation of data collected it can be difficult to benchmark the results accurately to deliver coherent global strategies.

According to Dr Anna Gavin from the NICR centre for public health at Queen’s University Belfast, who led the work, a tool such as CanStaging+ is urgently needed.

“We urgently need a global solution to increase the amount of and consistency of staging internationally. I am delighted that this tool will take us much closer to bridging these gaps enabling a global, reliable approach,” Gavin said.

She added: “Cancer staging is crucial to monitor and evaluate outcomes and cancer control activities. Almost half of registries in Latin America and the Caribbean (52pc) report staging information compared to 96pc of registries in North America and Europe.”

Isabelle Soerjomataram, deputy head of the Cancer Surveillance Branch at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said that the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted healthcare systems’ ability to deliver care to cancer patients.

Soerjomataram said: “It is of vital importance to resume cancer control activities, including early diagnosis, population-based cancer screening, timely treatment, continuous monitoring and reporting of cancer staging.”

The CanStaging+ tool, which has been partly funded by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership, is free for cancer registries around the world to use.

An earlier version of the tool launched in 2005 and it attracted users from 55 countries.

The updated version includes essential information that will support developing countries to measure disease stage from limited available information and more cancer sites. It also includes guidelines on data collection to enable better estimations of reasons for international differences in survival.

The latest version of CanStaging+ can also be downloaded for use offline and training will be provided.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.