Fitness Trackers could help save the lives of thousands of chemotherapy patients

Giving NHS cancer patients Fitbit-style bracelets which monitor their progress in real time could save thousands of lives a year, experts have predicted.

Oncologists currently use a decades-old framework of questions and visual observations to determine how well their patients are coping with treatment.

They frequently misjudge the toll chemotherapy is taking, leading to toxic build-ups and other emergencies that ultimately hold up fighting the disease.

Such misjudgements have affected around half of the patients undergoing chemotherapy, reducing their chances of survival by up to 16 percent.

However, a new programme trialled by the University of Southern California uses existing wearable devices such as Fitbits or Microsoft Bands to give an accurate picture of a patient’s health by monitoring them continuously between treatments sessions.


The study follows calls by Jeremy Hunt for a technological revolution in the NHS to slash inefficiency and better tackle the growing burden of disease.

In a study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual congress, the team tracked 65 cancer patients undergoing harsh chemotherapy courses for two months, finding that movement levels correlated closely with a smaller chance of being rushed to hospital.

In practice, this means doctors could use the system to see how often a patient has got out of bed and how far they have walked over a period of days - a more accurate indicator of chemotherapy endurance than asking them about side effects.

Family members could also receive alerts if their loved-ones have been active for days at a time. 

Scientists behind the trial say the technology would be of particular benefit to women, who are at greater risk of having the side-effects of chemotherapy underestimated because they typically are more presentable when they visit their doctor.

Dr Jorge Nieva, who co-authored the study, said: “If you think of the internet of things, we all have our home sprinkler systems and thermostat connected to the internet, so there’s no reason that our patients shouldn’t also be connected and have the potential to have monitoring and smart interventions.

“For cancer patients who are going through difficult treatments, having the ability to keep track of how they’re doing, much in the same way you keep track of the thermostat in your home or anything else connected to the internet, ultimately is going to have value.”

Dr Nieva said the current Performance Status framework of assessing how well a patient is coping, which was developed in the 1950s, is “prone to biases” such as patients tending to downplay side-effects and doctors being reluctant to cut back on treatment.

A significant proportion of emergencies that take place between treatment sessions arise because patients become dehydrated and undernourished as a result of discomfort from toxicity.

As well as aiding survival by cutting back on toxic events, the Fitbit system should better help oncologists determine which patients will not ultimately benefit from treatment, he said.

Professor Jane Maher, Joint Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support said: “It’s exciting that simple technology has the potential to positively impact the quality of life and survival rates of patients undergoing chemotherapy."

She added: “What this does highlight is that empowering, supporting and listening to patients is essential to improving cancer care across the board.”


The Telegraph News