Smartphone app improves quality of life for colorectal cancer patients after chemo

Turning to mobile health for chemotherapy aftercare could relieve a bulk of negative chemo side effects while educating colorectal cancer patients about their illness and future options, researchers wrote this month in Clinical Colorectal Cancer

Though early detection and improved therapies are nudging colorectal cancer survival rates upward, patients still suffer from severe fatigue and long-term functional loss—both of which are side effects of treatments like chemotherapy, corresponding author Ji Hye Hwang, MD, PhD, and colleagues said in the journal.

“Colorectal cancer patients often experience cancer-related symptoms, a reduction in physical performance and resultant deterioration in quality of life during chemotherapy,” Hwang, of Samsung Medical Center and Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in South Korea, wrote. “Therefore, not only management of the primary disease, but also management of functional loss, treatment-related toxicity and quality of life, is necessary in the cancer care continuum.”

Chemo for colorectal cancer patients is often administered in an outpatient setting, Hwang et al. wrote, meaning patients are also forced to manage any difficult side effects on their own. One solution that’s been successful in previous study populations for managing those symptoms is mobile health, or the delivery of healthcare resources via smartphones and other portable devices.

Mobile programs have been developed for nearly every aspect of the cancer journey, the authors said, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Since they’re so readily accessible and straightforward, such platforms also encourage patient adherence to self-management programs.

“Mobile health might lessen the patients’ burden and provide comprehensive management to cancer patients by providing a large amount of healthcare information and supervised self-management,” Hwang and co-authors said.

For their research, Hwang’s team developed a smartphone app for colorectal cancer patients that included a to-do list, health information and an in-app chat service for speaking to experts in the field. On the to-do list was taking medication, completing tailored rehab exercises that were supplemented with a wearable device, scheduling hospital visits and checking in on side effects. Individualized exercises were recommended for patients based on clinical evidence and unique symptoms.

Seventy-five of 102 colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy completed 12 weeks of the smartphone intervention, Hwang et al. wrote, and participants were measured for quality of life, physical abilities and nutritional status at baseline, halfway through the study and at the trial’s completion. 

Lower extremity strength and cardiorespiratory endurance both significantly improved, the authors reported, and both fatigue and nausea symptoms were relieved with the use of the program. Relief persisted even if the patient was still undergoing chemo.

“The use of a mobile application and wearable device as a method to provide individualized rehabilitation programs to colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy was effective in improving physical function and relieving treatment-related symptoms,” Hwang and co-authors said. “The positive results from our study will further encourage future application of mobile health in the rehabilitation of cancer patients undergoing active treatment.”