Cancer sucks. There’s no getting around to it. Anyone that’s ever been diagnosed with cancer remembers that initial feeling of shock, the tremendous amounts of pain, a fear of the unknown, and a sense of being overwhelmed.
Where do you go from there, how do you know you’re making the right choices? Can apps actually make this painful process easier for patients and their families?
Mobile apps are a rising resource for cancer patients due to their efficiency in providing education that helps patients better understand their disease. Some might be skeptical, while others might need more proof these apps aren’t useless, so let’s take a look at some of the most important facts about the apps for cancer patients.
Apps support the world of medicine
Mobile devices are becoming an integral part of the healthcare industry, changing how care is delivered and received.
In 2015, healthcare executives in both the public and private sectors anticipated that mobile devices would allow people to be more proactive with their health decisions.
A good example is the eCo Study app launched by Voluntis and AstraZeneca that collects information about side effects in clinical trials. The data it has garnered is helping to analyze an experimental combination therapy for ovarian cancer.
Its goal is to help physicians treat patients faster and to address two common side effects of cancer treatments: hypertension and diarrhea. The app’s approach reduces the time it takes for patients to describe their side effects.
A Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff collects data and sends it to a patient’s smartphone and to the patient’s doctor. Furthermore, if patients experience severe side effects, they’re able to manually enter information into the app, which is then shared with their clinicians.
“The support the app provides can further reduce medication dose modification and discontinuation rates and help maintain patients on therapy to improve their treatment outcome,” said Antoine Yver, AstraZeneca’s former head of oncology and global medicines development.
Let’s have a look at other examples to see whether or not apps can help patients manage their health conditions.
The lung cancer app
133 patients with stage III/IV lung cancer were randomly assigned to Web-mediated or standard follow-ups.
The standard follow-up included doctor visits, while patients in the Web-mediated follow-up group had the same schedule of planned doctor visits, but three times fewer scheduled scans.
One of the most important findings was that one year after the study began, 75% of patients using the app were still alive, compared to 49% of non-users.
However, another study, by researchers at Imperial College London, examined 185 health apps that focused on breast cancer awareness and found out that only 13% were developed with professional medical input.
So be aware that all apps are not created equal. Whenever you find an app that claims to give patients a diagnosis, be cautious and do your research. After all, neither computers nor apps will replace a doctor. Yet.
Aiding early cancer diagnosis
Apps are not meant to replace doctor visits, but they can allow patients to keep track of their health between appointments.
To better understand this concept, let’s have a look at the following two apps.
Two Skin Cancer Apps
SkinVision allows you to snap a photo of a skin condition and, by analyzing your moles or freckles, it will provide you with a “risk rating.” It claims to be 83% accurate in evaluating the risk of skin cancer.
Another skin cancer app, Firstcheck, allows you to get a virtual consultation with a specialist within 72 hours for $19.95.
“My grandpa was diagnosed with melanoma and then my wife had a mole map. It was then we realized the power of telemedicine and how just through photos you can increase the reach and access to specialists,” says Hayden Laird, the app’s co-founder.
The purpose is to connect people with their local specialists, being helpful especially for those living in rural areas. So far, the app has launched in New Zealand and Australia.
Easy healthcare management
A great app should empower patients by providing useful information that enables them to manage the challenges of cancer treatment.
Thus, self-management apps play a crucial role in helping patients to both cope with illness and communicate with their healthcare professionals.
Fortunately, there are apps for that.
The pediatric cancer app
One of these apps is called CancerCare, and it’s specifically designed for families with kids battling cancer, who need complex resources for tracking and education, in terms of medications, blood counts, and scheduling.
The app allows parents to organize treatment dates and medication schedules, access resources right from the app, track their child’s mood, side effects and blood counts, and confidentially share the information with other family members.
It’s offered as a public service to parents of the more than 15,000 children diagnosed with cancer every year.
The Cancer Pain Management App
The patients are able to request medication refills, view educational videos, and keep notes on how they are feeling.
“The app also educates cancer patients about their pain,” Dr. Kvedar said. “Some patients think that if it hurts, this means they are fighting the tumor, but that is a myth. Other patients worry about getting addicted to pain medication, and the app explains to them the difference between addiction and increased tolerance.”
“I would say that particularly in the last three months, hospitals have become more interested in the apps. It might take some time, but apps to treat chronic pain are a definitive trend,” he said.
Apps for cancer survivors
An ongoing study has identified four physical activity apps suitable for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors.
Each participant is randomly assigned to two of the four apps (Human, The Walk, Johnson & Johnson’s 7 Minute Workout, and Gorilla Workout), which they used during a two-week period, focusing on one each week.
The purpose of the study is to understand participant’s experience of using the apps, how relevant they are, and how the apps can be adapted for cancer patients.
So far, the results are good for people who have completed their cancer treatment and have a higher level of motivation. People with a lower level of motivation, on the other hand, have found the apps do little to increase motivation.
There’s good evidence to indicate that some apps have the potential to improve cancer patients’ health and well-being. The challenge is choosing apps that are appropriate for their specific situations and that have been developed with professional medical input.
So, before you download an app, remember to:
- Research the developers: find the developer’s name in the app store or on the app’s website and find out whether they consulted health professionals to develop it, or if any hospitals or health organizations endorse the app
- Look for apps that use evidence-based strategies, such as self-monitoring, goal setting, social support, or rewards
- Read reviews: see what others have to say in the app store about that particular app; to make sure the app will help patients long-term, pay attention to those users who have used it for a while
When a patient has to cope with the battle of their life, they have to be prepared for everything. These apps can make their experience more pleasant, while potentially even improving outcomes.