What if it were possible to improve the success rate of radiotherapy treatment in breast cancer patients without ever stepping foot inside a health care facility? The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and IVADO researchers are taking on the challenge.

For breast cancer patients, there are many treatments on the road to remission, and radiation therapy is one of them. It lasts five weeks and requires daily treatments that can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare, especially when it comes to travel and accommodation. In addition to being stressful to plan, the round trips can become a financial burden when the unforeseen costs compound the income shortfall experienced by women on sick leave. Indeed, one out of five patients forgoes radiotherapy owing to the incidental expenses.

To ensure universal access to treatment, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation offers financial compensation. And to provide women with even more support, Nadia Lahrichi, associate professor at Polytechnique Montréal, Jida El Hajjar, vice-president of investments and health promotion at the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and Anjali Awasthi, associate professor at Concordia University are leading the Communauté rose project to launch a pink Uber in the next three years.

It’s actually more than that. We want to create a genuine community in which breast cancer patients and volunteers can connect with each other.

Jida El Hajjar

Beyond a logistical or taxi service, the Communauté rose will help breast cancer patients get to a health care centre for treatment accompanied by a driver who has their wellbeing at heart and is trained to provide support if they need it, since radiation weakens patients and can cause side effects.

As part of the project, the IVADO team is lending its expertise to create a decision support system. Relying on data provided by the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, researchers are designing prediction and optimization models to minimize treatment costs and time devoted to logistics. These upstream efforts are critical to develop a functioning and sustainable pink community.

With graduate students Ehsan Sharifnia and Mohsen Amoei, IVADO experts are currently tackling the transportation component, though the scope of the project is much broader. “We’re starting with transport because kilometres are the simplest project parameter to quantify,” explained Nadia Lahrichi. “We’ve developed a discrete event simulation method to determine what a pink transportation system would look like: what type of service would it provide? How often? What will the patient experience be like? Those are the questions we want to answer. Then, we’ll expand the services of the Communauté rose to accommodations and lastly to home care services.” Once these steps are made, no breast cancer patient will ever have to worry about whether or not she will get radiation treatment.