Oct 16, 2017
What if a person facing cancer could improve his or her treatment experience with just a few taps on a smartphone, tablet, or computer?
Cancer treatment causes unpleasant side effects. This fact is so widely known patients sometimes assume suffering, no matter how severe, is normal. What they don’t realize is symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and pain can be managed – and occasionally even eliminated – with their doctor’s help.
Of course, their doctor must first be aware of any issues in order to take action.
“Unfortunately, we as clinicians miss up to half of our patients’ symptoms,” explained Ethan Basch, MD, FASCO, BA, director of the Cancer Outcomes Research Program at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our visits are busy, patients may not remember all of their symptoms, but also, patients may be reluctant to discuss their symptoms.”
This was a key finding from a study supported by Dr. Basch’s 2007 Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF) of ASCO Career Development Award. Dr. Basch and his team asked patients to self-report their own symptoms electronically using an online tool. The tool then sent the information to the patients’ doctors, who could adjust treatment plans accordingly.
Building on this work, Dr. Basch recently completed a trial comparing the experience of patients who self-reported their symptoms using the online tool with those who received standard care. The results were noteworthy – so noteworthy, in fact, that Dr. Basch was selected to present the findings during the Plenary Session of the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting.
“Thirty-one percent of patients who self-reported had a better quality of life, likely because their symptoms were being better controlled,” said Dr. Basch. “The most striking discovery, though, was that on average patients in the self-reporting group had a median overall survival benefit of five months compared to the other group.”
In other words, Dr. Basch’s tool helped patients live five months longer than those who did not use the tool.
“I remember one patient with metastatic breast cancer who was called by a nurse because she reported worsening pain through our tool,” Dr. Basch recalls. “She was surprised to get the call because she didn’t realize her pain was abnormal.”
“The nurse changed her prescription for a narcotic, and when the patient came in next she was incredibly grateful – grateful that her pain was being controlled, and that somebody was listening when she was at home.”
“Conquering cancer means looking at the whole patient … improving the patient experience, the way they live their lives every day, the experience for their caregivers, and the people in their community,” reflected Dr. Basch. “Thanks to funding from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO, we are attempting to improve all aspects of the patient’s experience.”