Smartphone app monitors cancer patients recovery

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PITTSBURGH, Dec. 20, 2017 – Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy can be remotely monitored using their smartphone sensors and an algorithm that detects worsening symptoms based on objective changes in patient behavior, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, indicate that worsening symptoms during cancer treatments can be detected using smartphones that patients likely already own and use. Real-time estimation of symptoms and side effects could provide an opportunity for doctors to intervene earlier between clinic visits, preventing unnecessary physician or hospital visits and improving patient quality of life.

The study enrolled 14 patients who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment for gastrointestinal cancer at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. They were asked to carry a smartphone for four weeks as they went about their daily lives. Smartphone software developed by the researchers passively and continuously collected data on behavior patterns, such as the number of calls or texts sent and received, smartphone apps used, and the movement and location of the phone.

As part of the study, the patients were asked to rate the severity of 12 common symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea, at least once a day. They would classify each day as either a "higher-than-average burden," "average burden," or "low burden" day. Researchers then used the data collected from the smartphone to develop an algorithm that could identify and correlate the patient's "high-symptom," "average-symptom" and "low-symptom" days with 88 percent accuracy.

"We found that on days when the patients reported worse-than-average symptoms, they tended to spend more time being sedentary, moved the phone more slowly, and spent more minutes using apps on the phone," said Carissa Low, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and lead author of the study. "Collecting these objective behavioral measures from smartphone sensors 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 conducting follow-up studies to determine whether the same passive sensing approach can be used to identify complications following cancer surgery. They also are working with health care providers to understand how to integrate this data into the workflow of clinical care.

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This research was funded by research grants from the National Cancer Institute (K07CA204380) and by a Manners Faculty Development Award from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see http://www.medschool.pitt.edu.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the region's only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, is one of the largest integrated community cancer networks in the United States. Backed by the collective strength of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has more than 60 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and New York, with seven international cancer centers and partnerships. Consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report for excellence in cancer care, the more than 2,000 physicians, researchers and staff are leaders in molecular and cellular cancer biology, cancer immunology, cancer virology, biobehavioral oncology, and cancer epidemiology, prevention, and therapeutics. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is transforming cancer research, care, and prevention — one patient at a time.

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