Western Sydney breast cancer patients “EMPOWER”-ed through successful award-winning trial 

EMPOWER-SMS creator Anna Singleton pictured with NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard and
Chief Executive Officer of the National Health and Medical Research Council Professor Anne Kelso

A patient-centred SMS education service will now be part of standard care at Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD)’s Westmead Breast Cancer Institute (BCI), following a successful almost four-year trial.

EMPOWER-SMS is the brainchild of Anna Singleton, a PhD student and research associate at the University of Sydney who worked under the supervision of specialist breast surgeon and head of research at the BCI Associate Professor Elisabeth Elder to co-design and lead a clinical trial of the SMS program.

EMPOWER-SMS delivers six months of mental health and healthy living text message support to patients and links them to free services, websites and programs that promote wellness after breast cancer and generates medication reminders.

“BCI was looking at ways to improve accessibility and better support patients between medical visits, so the institute was the perfect place to trial EMPOWER-SMS,” said Associate Professor Elder.

A total of 160 patients, aged 33 to 87 took part in the clinical trial with 80 women receiving EMPOWER-SMS’s for six months compared with 80 women who received no text messages. Participants received four messages per week for six months and could opt-out at any time.

University of Sydney Researchers from left to right: Dr Nashid Hafiz, Prof Julie Redfern, Ms Anna Singleton and Dr Karice Hyun

The trial proved a success with those using EMPOWER-SMS missing less doses of their anti-hormone medications such as Tamoxifen and Aromatase Inhibitors compared to those who did not receive EMPOWER-SMS.

Of the 64 participants who provided feedback,100 per cent agreed that EMPOWER-SMS was easy to understand, 90 per cent found it “useful” and over half of the people agreed that it “motivated a healthy lifestyle change” and “increased physical activity”.

One trial participant recalls, “I remember there’s one day I felt really down and I got this simple message that said “you are important and you are beautiful – have a great day!” – and it just put me to tears. I was just like “Okay, I’m not alone in this” and I felt better”.

The trial was deemed such a success that EMPOWER-SMS won the Consumer Involvement Award at the 2022 Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA) Trial of the Year Awards on 20 May. The awards celebrate the outstanding Australian achievements that advance clinical practice and save or improve the lives of patients every year through collaborative, multicentre, investigator-driven clinical trials.

“EMPOWER-SMS is a testament to the power of utilising various communication channels and how beneficial multidisciplinary collaboration can be,” said Associate Professor Elder.

“EMPOWER stems from the work of Westmead Hospital’s Professor Dr Clara Chow’s TEXTMEDS program study which focused on how to prevent a second heart attack, and was created and tested in collaboration with patients, clinicians, breast care nurses and allied health professionals.

“BCI understands the importance of undertaking research that will lead to a better understanding of breast cancer and improve treatment outcomes, and this is a great example of its ethos.”