Mobile Cancer Prevention, Care Apps Fail to Meet Potential

Overall, the reviewed cancer apps did not take advantage of the smartphone’s technical capabilities, according to a report.

While there are hundreds of cancer-focused smartphone apps with the potential to enhance efforts to promote behavior change and provide real-time supportive interventions, conveniently and at low cost, there is a lack of evidence on their utility, effectiveness and safety, according to a report in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers conducted a systematic review of the official application stores for the four major smartphone platforms: iPhone, Android, Nokia and BlackBerry.

Apps were included in the review if they were focused on cancer and available for use by the general public. This was complemented by a systematic review of literature from Medline, Embase and the Cochrane Library to identify evaluations of cancer-related smartphone apps.

"Overall, the reviewed cancer apps did not take advantage of the smartphone’s technical capabilities," the report said. "The reviewed apps also failed to fully take advantage of the smartphone’s social networking capabilities. Only three apps enabled users to connect with similar others to exchange information and support."

The majority of apps targeted breast cancer (46.8 percent) or cancer in general (28.5 percent). The reported app purpose was predominantly to raise awareness about cancer or to provide educational information about cancer, followed by apps to support fundraising efforts, assist in early detection or promote a charitable organization.

The report found most of the mobile interventions used "push" technology, where participants received personalized text or automated voicemail messages such as appointment, medication or symptom assessment reminders, or educational messages to encourage preventive health behaviors or self-management activities.

Apps were excluded if they were only available on tablet computers or were aimed at health care professionals. Apps related to smoking cessation, radiation exposure or general symptom management were also excluded because they were not focused on cancer and many did not include "cancer" in their title or store description.

"The combination of their popularity, technical capabilities and proximity to their owners makes smartphones an attractive platform for the delivery of health promotion and disease management interventions," the report said. "Despite increasing interest in mobile phones as platforms for the delivery of health behavior-changing interventions, this study suggests that the cancer apps available in the app stores, on their own, have limited potential value in this regard."