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Fitness Trackers Seen Feasible for Cancer Patients

Arjun Gupta and Muhammad Beg

Arjun Gupta, left, and Muhammad Beg led the study of fitness trackers among cancer patients. (UT-Southwestern Medical Center)

2 May 2018. Activity tracking devices, used by athletes and ordinary persons to track their fitness, are shown in a pilot test to successfully monitor physical activity of older cancer patients for periods of 10 weeks or more. Results of the study, conducted by researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, appears in the 30 April issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology: Clinical Cancer Informatics (paid subscription required).

When treating cancer patients, say the authors, clinicians need to be cognizant of individuals’ ability to function normally, particularly among older patients, but have few tools for easily keeping track of physical activity. Many mobile and wearable devices are on the market today for routine monitoring of physical activity, but their use with cancer patients has not yet been examined. A team at UT-Southwestern, led by internist and first author Arjun Gupta and cancer specialist Muhammad Beg, sought to evaluate these devices for activity tracking with cancer patients, particularly over an extended period.

The researchers recruited 24 patients being treated for a variety of solid tumor cancers. The group’s average age was 54 and two-thirds were women. Participants were either fully active or at least ambulatory and capable of taking care of themselves. The team found they could use the number of steps taken, a measure found on nearly all fitness trackers, as their basic activity gauge.

Participants in the study wore their fitness trackers for a median duration of 69 days, or nearly 10 weeks. Moreover, three-quarters of the group (18 of 24) reported positive experiences with the devices. Researchers found the number of steps taken by participants correlated with scores on the standard Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, or ECOG, performance status scale used to assess functionality of cancer patients. In addition, steps per day taken by patients also correlated with a second standard measure of patient functionality — Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy: General, or FACT-G scale — as well as measures of fatigue and depression symptoms, which recorded negative correlations with number of steps.

The authors conclude fitness trackers offer a feasible means of tracking physical activity in cancer patients. “This is the first step in understanding how relevant wearable devices are for cancer patients,” says senior author Beg in a university statement. “My hope is that we can use wearable devices in large cancer clinical trials. That way, we can see what the true effect of different cancer treatments are on patients’ physical activity.”

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