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Mobile Tech Helps Reduce Adverse Cancer Therapy Effects

Susan Peterson

Susan Peterson (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center)

18 May 2018. Mobile technology combined with sensor-connected home devices are shown in a clinical trial to help patients reduce adverse side effects from radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. Findings of the trial, led by a team from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, part of the University of Texas system, will be presented on 2 June at the annual meeting of American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

The team led by M.D. Anderson behavioral scientist Susan Peterson is assessing a mobile technology platform called Cyberinfrastructure for comparative effectiveness research, or Cycore, that applies mobile and sensor technology to improve the delivery of cancer treatments. In this case, Peterson and colleagues studied use of Cycore among patients receiving radiation treatments for head and neck cancers. American Cancer Society estimates some 51,500 new cases of head and neck cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. during 2018, leading to about 10,000 deaths. Treatments for these cancers often involve radiation, with chemotherapy and surgery, which in many cases result in oral mucositis, a condition making it painful to swallow, leading to dehydration among patients.

Cycore is a collaboration of M.D. Anderson with University of California in San Diego, Qualcomm Institute affiliated with UC-San Diego, and University of Alabama in Birmingham. The project is establishing a platform and methods for using mobile and sensor-connected technologies to collect real-time data from patients that provide their physicians with more timely reports on the health of their patients, and improve adherence to drugs and treatments.

In the clinical trial, the team enrolled 357 patients at M.D. Anderson with head and neck cancers, who were randomly assigned to equip their homes with Cycore technology as well as receive the standard care given patients, or receive the usual cancer care alone. Cycore-equipped homes had blood-pressure cuffs and weight scales with sensors connected via Bluetooth links to an in-home Wi-Fi network, and a mobile software app on a tablet. The tablet app then relayed the sensor data to a server at M.D. Anderson. Participants in the trial completed 28-item surveys by phone interview on cancer symptoms — including swallowing and chewing characteristic of head and neck cancer — as well as their overall health and quality of life. Data were collected at the start of their treatments, immediately after treatments, and 6 to 8 weeks following therapy.

The surveys asked patients to rate the severity of symptoms or pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the most severe symptoms or pain. Participants in the Cycore and standard care groups rated their symptoms about the same at the beginning of treatments, but by the end of therapy, Cycore participants rated their symptoms, including symptoms specific to head and neck cancer, less severe than individuals in the standard care group. After 6 to 8 weeks following therapy, participants in the Cycore group continued to report less severe symptoms, including those specific to head and neck cancer, than participants receiving the usual care.

The study team was particularly encouraged by the high rates of participation and adherence to Cycore technology, with 85 percent agreeing to take part in the Cycore group and 80 percent sticking with the program. “These findings suggest that home monitoring and early intervention by physicians could potentially result in better outcomes for our patients,” says Peterson in an M.D. Anderson statement. “Less severe symptoms means patients may be tolerating their treatment better, and hopefully have better outcomes.”

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