The Sarcoma App: Using Technology to Enhance Learning



When radiation therapists want to learn about a rare disease such as sarcoma, they turn to Clinical Radiation Oncology, which is one of the only textbooks to address this topic.

“I wanted to do something different,” said Colleen Dickie, an Assistant Professor at UTDRO and a Radiation Therapist at the Princess Margaret. Therefore, Colleen created the world’s first sarcoma app “to disseminate evidence-based knowledge about this rare disease and to enhance the way people learn about sarcoma.”

"The self-directed learning platform targets radiation therapists working with sarcoma, students learning about radiation therapy and others who are interested in learning about treatment for this disease"


Since soft tissue sarcomas are rare and radiation therapy techniques are constantly changing and improving, it is difficult to standardize treatment. “There is no common method to position patients for sarcoma treatment and there is no common imaging method or radiation therapy technique,” explained Colleen.

In parallel, Cancer Care Ontario has launched a province-wide initiative, called the Provincial Sarcoma Services Plan, which will centralize sarcoma care. Presented as a hub and spoke model, the plan had tasked major centres such as the Princess Margaret to provide several services such as disseminating evidence-based knowledge to help deliver high-precision radiation therapy. Colleen’s sarcoma app aligns with this goal perfectly.

The app is meant to be launched in centres around the world where radiation therapists are treating soft tissue sarcoma. The self-directed learning platform targets radiation therapists working with sarcoma, students learning about radiation therapy and others who are interested in learning about treatment for this disease. 

Given the common and widespread use of cell phones today, an app-based educational platform was the perfect medium for this community. Once downloaded, it is capable of operating without a wifi connection, is easy to update and free to use. “It is the perfect addition to lectures,” added Colleen. “But it was not an easy project to develop.”

After receiving a $5,000 CAMRT Research Grant, Colleen devised a system that was affordable and easy to update. She employed a development company called mRendering who had a track record of creating high-security apps for the United States military. Colleen then negotiated with the company to develop the sarcoma app at a discounted price in exchange for her input on their e-learning platforms.

Colleen learned about the intricacies of creating and launching apps while the developers learned about e-learning theory. She worked with the entire Radiation Medicine team and sourced content from their publications. She got input from UTDRO radiation oncologists and within a year, the first version of the app had been released to Medical Radiation Sciences undergraduate students. “I am testing it with the students,” 

Colleen said. “Based on the data and their feedback, we will continue to work out the bugs. Then we will release it within the Radiation Medicine Program, followed by provincial, national and international deployment.” Colleen already has interest from centres around the world including MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York and the Netherlands Cancer Institute. 

The app tests the user’s knowledge before and after each ‘chapter’ and provides reference material which the user can use to verify information and familiarize themselves with the required sources for their daily work. Pilot testing shows that students are engaging with the app and their knowledge about sarcoma is increasing.

Colleen hopes that this app will open up the channels of communication between the various centres so they can all share their techniques and decide on the best treatment options together. It has already brought an inter-disciplinary team of medical physicists, radiation oncologists, radiation therapists and e-learning specialists together at the Princess Margaret. After releasing it nationally, Colleen plans to expand the app to include sections on medical oncology, surgical oncology and young adults, as well as a patient section where the patients will be able to complete assessments while they await treatment.

The Sarcoma app will be available for free download on Apple and Android devices at the end of this year.


Image Credit: Sarah Khan

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