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Phone Sensors Shown to Monitor Chemotherapy Effects

Catheter for chemotherapy

Catheter for chemotherapy (Rhoda Baer, National Cancer Institute)

21 December 2017. A group of cancer patients was able to monitor the severity of effects of their chemotherapy with built-in sensors on smartphones and fitness trackers. Results of the clinical study, led by researchers at University of Pittsburgh, appear in the 19 December issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The team from Pittsburgh’s Biobehavioral Oncology and Technology Lab and other institutions is seeking better ways of monitoring effects of chemotherapy on cancer patients, while keeping demands for data gathering to a minimum. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells, but in the process they can cause adverse effects such as fatigue, hair loss, and nausea. The researchers point to fatigue as one of the more common effects, citing data that show a majority of patients, from 60 to 90 percent, experience moderate to severe fatigue, and up to half, 41 to 50 percent, report disturbed sleep while undergoing cancer treatments.

The Pittsburgh researchers led by hematology and oncology professor Carissa Low also point to data highlighting the value of close monitoring of chemotherapy patients and early interventions to prevent adverse effects from becoming severe. At the same time, requiring patients to track their symptoms by keeping logs or other written reports can become burdensome and difficult to maintain over time.

Low and colleagues studied sensors built into today’s smartphones that may provide alternatives to active reporting, since about 3 in 4 Americans (77%) own a smartphone. The team recruited 14 individuals receiving chemotherapy for gastrointestinal cancer, who carried an Android phone and wore a Fitbit activity tracker for 4 weeks. The researchers extracted data from the phones and Fitbits showing participants’ mobility, activity, sleep, phone calls, app use, and text messages. During that time, participants also rated the severity of 12 symptoms associated with chemotherapy, scoring each day as high, low, or average in burden from their chemo symptoms.

The results show the patients’ symptom burden ratings correlate with physical and phone activity data taken from the phones and fitness trackers. The authors say the most accurate indicators are sedentary or light physical activity, acceleration variability, amount of time the phone screen is on, and interactions with the phones’ apps. “We found that on days when the patients reported worse-than-average symptoms,” says Low in a university statement, “they tended to spend more time being sedentary, moved the phone more slowly, and spent more minutes using apps on the phone.”

Overall, the devices were accurate from 78 to 100 percent of the time for individual patients, with an average of 88 percent. In addition, sensors on the phones appear to better predict symptom severity than Fitbit’s features.

“Collecting these objective behavioral measures from smartphone sensors,” Low adds, “requires no additional effort from patients, and they could prove beneficial for long-term monitoring of those undergoing arduous cancer treatments or those with other chronic illnesses.” The researchers are expanding their work to include monitoring of complications from cancer surgery using smartphone sensors, and integrating the data into clinical care processes.

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