Head and neck cancer patients report lessened symptoms when monitored remotely

By Laura Lovett

Head and neck cancer patients who were given smartphone and sensor technology as a way to remotely monitor their symptoms reported less severe symptoms from their cancer and treatment than their counterparts who did receive the technology, according to a recent  presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting. 

A total of 357 people who were undergoing radiation treatment for their head and neck cancer participated in the investigation. 

The study used a system called Cycore, or cyberinfrastructure for comparative effectiveness, which included a Bluetooth-enabled weight scale, Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff, and a mobile tablet with a symptom-tracking app that sends users’ information directly to their doctors. A total of 169 patients were assigned to the CYCORE, while the other 188 participants were given normal care. Both groups received one doctor’s visit a week. 

“Our study generated evidence on how newer technologies can be integrated into cancer care relatively easily and improve patient outcomes without interfering too much in a person’s daily life,” Susan K. Peterson, lead author in the study and a professor in the  Department of Behavioral Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, said in a statement. “This study was done during a rather intense period in the patients’ care for head and neck cancer. The system helped their physicians to provide valuable support that ultimately resulted in lower symptom severity.”

Patients rated their symptoms on a score of zero to 10, with zero meaning the patient had no symptoms and 10 meaning the symptoms were the most severe. At the end of the participants’ radiation therapy, the intervention group had a mean score of 2.9 for general symptoms, compared with 3.4 for participants in the usually care group. The intervention group also had a lower average score (4.2) for specific head and neck cancer symptoms than the control group (4.8). 

The system was designed to help doctors as well. Eighty percent of participants in the intervention group adhered to daily monitoring. Researchers also reported that the system helped doctors to better monitor patients. 

The authors said the next step would be to investigate the long term benefits of the Cycore intervention program. However, researchers did note that the study had limited diversity, as it was comprised primarily of patients who were white. 

"This study demonstrates the power of leveraging smart technology to improve the care of people with cancer. These tools helped simplify care for both patients and their care providers by enabling emerging side effects to be identified and addressed quickly and efficiently to ease the burden of treatment. I hope that these or similar technologies will be broadly available to patients soon," ASCO President Dr. Bruce E. Johnson said in a statement.