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Information Technology Helps People With Cancer Live Longer

Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Posted October 7, 2017

Long duration of treatment is a norm for most cancer patients. Many of them are treated for rest of their life after cancer diagnosis. However, it is not always possible to treat patients in a hospital setting because of shortage of hospital beds, financial implications, or due to numerous other reasons. Typically, physicians prefer hospital setting for any invasive treatment such as surgery, radio-ablation therapy, etc. Follow-up treatment is usually undertaken on out-patient basis.

The growth and advancement of cancer can lead to the development of newer symptoms, complications, and side effects of treatments that appear from time to time. Sometimes, the healthcare providers are not prepared for such situations, leading to treatment failures. In this context, Dr Ethan M. Basch, Professor of Medicine at Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre of the University of Carolina said that “Patients receiving chemotherapy often have severe symptoms, but doctors and nurses are unaware of these symptoms up to half of the time.”

To tackle this issue, researchers are taking the help of online technologies. Online communication has transformed our life in every aspect. It is a simple and readily available solution. Through web-based tools and other online technologies, patients can report their symptoms in real time and help clinicians take appropriate decisions combined with rapid action, to address the issues. The idea is to shorten the response time through effective communication. 

A recent randomized control trial compared the benefits of web-based technology, to inform clinician about symptoms of cancer patients, to conventional treatment methodology. This web-based tool called “Symptom Tracking and Reporting” or STAR was exclusively designed for the study (presently, not commercially available). The study enrolled 766 patients receiving chemotherapy for advanced solid tumors, mostly involving genitourinary, gynaecological systems, and breast and lung tumors. The patients were divided into two groups; one group reporting the symptom via tablet computer, and the other group monitored conventionally by clinicians during hospital visits.

Results of the study showed that on a weekly basis, patients using web-based tools reported 12 common symptoms of chemotherapy and graded them in a 5-point scale. During reporting of the symptoms, the nurses took immediate care of more than 75% of the patients reporting severe or worsening symptoms. This immediate action increased the overall survival of patient reporting with web-based tools by more than 5 months. Earlier reports from the same study have revealed that the use of online technologies is associated with better quality of life and fewer hospitalizations.

Lead author of the study Dr Ethan M. Basch said that “We show that using a web-based symptom reporting system that alerts the care team about problems leads to actions that alleviate suffering and improve patient outcomes”. He also mentioned that “The improvement in survival we saw may seem modest, but it is greater than the effect of many targeted cancer drugs for metastatic cancer.”


1. Web-Based System for Self-Reporting Symptoms Helps Patients Live Longer [Internet]. ASCO. 2017 [cited 2017 Jun 17]. Available from: http://www.asco.org/about-asco/press-center/news-releases/web-based-system-self-reporting-symptoms-helps-patients-live