Cancer smartphone apps for consumers lack effectiveness

There is a lack of evidence on the utility, effectiveness and safety of smartphone-based cancer applications, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

"Overall, this study found a considerable number of cancer-focused apps, available to consumers, of unknown utility and effectiveness," the article's authors write. "Although mobile devices offer remarkably low-cost, real-time ways to encourage preventive strategies, monitor a host of behaviors, symptoms and physiological indicators of disease and provide interventions, the evidence base in support of these apps is lacking."

Arguing that little is known about smartphone applications for cancer, the purpose of the study was to characterize the purpose and content of smartphone apps for the prevention, detection and management of cancer, as well as the evidence of their utility or effectiveness. Researchers conducted a systematic review and content analysis of the online app stores for four major smartphone platforms--iPhone (App Store), Android (Google Play), BlackBerry (App World) and Nokia/Symbian (Ovi).

Apps were included in the review if they were focused on cancer and available for use by the general public, complemented by a systematic review of literature from MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Library to identify evaluations of cancer-related smartphone apps. A total of 295 apps from the smartphone app stores met the inclusion criteria, with the majority of apps targeted at breast cancer (46.8 percent) or cancer in general (28.5 percent). 

"There are hundreds of cancer-focused apps with the potential to enhance efforts to promote behavior change, to monitor a host of symptoms and physiological indicators of disease, and to provide real-time supportive interventions, conveniently and at low cost," the article's authors write. "However, there is a lack of evidence on their utility, effectiveness and safety. Future efforts should focus on improving and consolidating the evidence base into a whitelist for public consumption."

Similarly, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Cancer Education looked at smartphone applications as a source of cancer information, identifying and analyzing the content of cancer-related apps available on the Apple iTunes platform. The study found a "lack of cancer-related applications with scientifically backed data."

In November, Partners HealthCare's Center for Connected Health in Boston announced that it received a research grant from the McKesson Foundation's Mobilizing for Health initiative to develop an interactive mHealth program to improve medication adherence and clinical outcomes in patients with cancer using a smartphone app.

Based on clinical guidelines from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Oncology Nursing Society's standards for safe chemotherapy administration combined with evidence-based guidelines for clinical practice, a self-management solution will be designed to help home-based patients on oral chemotherapy to better monitor their symptoms.

To learn more:
- read the JMIR article