First-of-its-kind app supports paediatric cancer patients

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Ten-year-old Jaylen Williams comes to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre every weekday to receive radiation therapy.

He spends most of his appointments playing on a first-of-its-kind app in Canada – Rads4Kids – developed specifically for patients like him.

This June, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and SickKids launched Rads4Kids, an interactive app for paediatric radiation patients. Funded by The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, the app is designed to enhance children’s understanding of radiation therapy and to improve communication between doctors, paediatric patients and their families. Rads4Kids can be used by any medical centre where radiation therapy is administered.

A ‘shocking’ diagnosis

Jaylen began experiencing pain in his right shoulder and ribs late last year. As an active child with a passion for sports, his father Stephan Williams was sure it was a sports-related injury. Shortly after, then nine-year-old Jaylen was diagnosed with embryonal sarcoma of the liver, a rare childhood cancer.

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“It was extremely shocking. He’s such a healthy and active child,” explains Stephan. “When he started complaining about pain in his shoulders, I thought it was a pulled muscle or a pinched nerve.”

Three months later, in March 2015, Jaylen underwent a major surgery to remove a 10 by 10 by 12 cm tumour inside his liver.

Jaylen began radiation treatment at the Princess Margaret in June. The cancer centre treats approximately 130 pediatric patients like Jaylen every year.

Understanding radiation therapy: there’s an app for that

Susan Awrey, one of the principal creators of Rads4Kids and Pediatric Radiation Nurse Coordinator at Princess Margaret and SickKids, says Rads4Kids offers paediatric cancer patients and families pertinent information about their care and what to expect during treatment.

“It is essential for children and their families to have a better understanding of what will happen during radiation treatment. It was time to update our resources for this very special population,” says Awrey.

Rads4Kids contains four main features, including:

  • Parent FAQs on radiation side effects, signs and symptoms and tools for helping your child cope with treatment
  • A game that illustrates radiation attacking bad cells in the body
  • A calendar of emoticons that allows kids to record how they feel
  • A story book that explains radiation therapy to children, which is available in both English and French

“It’s a good app, it really helps me understand everything,” says Jaylen, who enjoys using Rads4Kids and uses it often.

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Dr. David Hodgson, radiation oncologist and Site Lead for the Pediatric Oncology Program, Princess Margaret, staff hematologist at SickKids, highlights the importance of communicating clearly with pediatric radiation patients.

“For a child, radiotherapy is a big unknown. To be able to alleviate the uncertainty and present the information in a way that is familiar to kids by using the app is a really fantastic way of making them feel comfortable about their treatment,” says Dr. Hodgson.

Jaylen completed his radiation treatment in July, after 16 sessions.

He plans to spend his summer playing soccer with friends and enjoying the weather, before traveling to Jamaica for a family vacation later this September.

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