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MD Anderson Launches mHealth Study Targeting Cancer-Related Fatigue

The Texas-based cancer center is part of an international project to evaluate the effectiveness of an mHealth app that helps those living with cancer to manage fatigue symptoms at home and collaborate with their care team.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is launching a clinical study to determine whether an mHealth app can improve care management and health outcomes for people living with cancer.

M.D. Anderson is part of an international project studying the value of digital health platforms in helping patients manage their care at home and improve health and wellness. Backed by the National Cancer Institute, they’ll be working with the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and Tired of Cancer, a Dutch organization formed in 2013 to study Cancer-Related Fatigue (CRF).

An estimated 40 percent of all those living with cancer struggle with CRF according to Bram Kuiper and Door Vonk, two Dutch researchers who founded Tired of Cancer and developed the Untire mobile health app.

“CRF is a very serious side-effect,” Vonk said in a press release. “However, both patients and doctors tend not to talk about it. One of the reasons is that there was no concrete solution for CRF available. Now there is.”

Led by Cobi J. Heijnen, PhD, a team of researchers at MD Anderson will study how patients living with cancer use the Untire self-management app. The app provides education on CRF and side-effects like anxiety and sleeping problems, tips to improve one’s lifestyle, physical and mental exercises to reduce stress and improve energy levels, access to online support and weekly reporting tools.

The study is expected to involve as many as 400 participants and will run through 2021.

Heijnen and his team will also be creating a provider support guide, designed to help care teams improve collaboration with patients on dealing with CRF.

“Our aim is to help healthcare providers address CRF, support them with a concrete, digital solution and give cancer patients and survivors the fatigue specific resources they need,” Kuiper said.

The study is one of many programs aimed at improving outcomes for people living with cancer by fine-tuning care coordination and management outside the hospital, clinic or doctor’s office. Healthcare providers and researchers are using an array of connected health tools, from apps and wearables to remote patient monitoring and telehealth platforms, to facilitate that care.

Among the more recent projects is the SIMPRO (Symptom Management IMplementation of Patient Reported Outcomes in Oncology) Research Center, an effort launched in 2018 by the National Cancer Institute and the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative in which six health systems around the country are using a remote patient monitoring platform to collect data on cancer care management in the home.

Clinical studies like the Untire project also need to keep patient engagement and collaboration in the forefront.

That was the gist of a 2016 study in which researchers from Stanford University and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California found that many mHealth apps designed to help cancer patients and survivors aren’t doing a good job.

“There is tremendous potential for mobile health apps to improve long-term health outcomes among cancer survivors, but the field of mobile health research is in its infancy,” Lorene Nelson, an associate professor of health research and policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a press release issued by CPIC after the study was published in the March 24, 2017 issue of the Journal for Cancer Survivorship.

With the Untire project, researchers are using patient participation to shape the mHealth platform. The global effort includes cancer patients from the US, the Netherlands, the UK, Canada, Australia, Spain and Germany.

“We are proud that we can provide this new resource, which is so important for cancer patients and healthcare providers,” Kuiper said in the press release. “There is now great interest, among patients, patient advocacy groups, hospitals, oncologists and nurses to use the app in blended care; the combination of regular medical treatments and online support.”

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