Clinicians who keep an eye on lung cancer patients’ step counts tracked through Fitbits and other devices may be able to predict the success of each individual’s chemotherapy.
That’s according to a recent study, published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology. Scientists with New York-based Montefiore Health System believe fitness trackers could have “powerful implications” for oncology care.
“I consider step counts to be a new vital sign for cancer treatment,” Nitin Ohri, MD, a radiation oncologist with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and affiliated Montefiore, said in a Jan. 8 news announcement. “Our study shows that people who are inactive for their age will have a significantly more difficult time with radiation therapy. They are more likely to end up in the hospital, experience treatment delays and disease recurrence and are less likely to survive,” he added.
Ohri and colleagues made this discovery by measuring the activity levels of 50 patients with non-small cell lung cancer who wore step counters prior to chemo. They separated patients into three categories—inactive, moderately active or highly active—based on their daily movement.
This revealed “dramatic” differences in treatment outcomes, the team noted. About 50% of those in the inactive group needed to be hospitalized during treatment compared to just 9% of active patients. And only 10% of inactive patients were alive and disease-free a year and a half later, versus 60% in the active segment.
Ohri acknowledged the sample size is small, but he hopes clinicians will make a note of this new vital sign when devising care plans in the future.
“If someone’s step counts decrease dramatically during treatment—say, from 5,000 to 2,000 steps a day—that change needs to spark some conversations. Having an objective indicator of patients’ functional status could be critical in identifying who needs extra care during treatment,” he said in the news announcement from the American Society for Radiation Oncology, which published the study.