Cancer patients who report on their own symptoms may live longer


Use of an electronic self-reporting system increased the survival times of patients with advanced cancer in a recent study, writes Andrew Masterson.


A nurse and a hospital patient look at a tablet.
An electronic self-reporting system may help people with advanced cancer.
Dean Mitchell / Getty

Encouraging patients with advanced cancer to self-report symptoms leads to a modest increase in survival, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Between 2007 and 2011, a team of doctors led by Ethan Basch of the University of North Carolina, US, tested whether cancer patients could be enlisted into monitoring their own symptoms and, if so, whether doing so produced any clinical benefits.

A total of 766 patients, all of whom had metastatic solid tumours, volunteered to take part in the trial. Half of the group was assigned to standard cancer care protocols. The other was also given standard care, but also asked to use an electronic system to self-report the severity and change of 12 listed symptoms.

Reporting any change to symptoms automatically generated a notice sent to attending nurses and doctors.

The researchers assessed the results of the trial in June 2016 after 517 of 766 participants had died. They found that the median survival time for the self-reporting cohort was 31.2 months, an average of five months longer than the standard care group.

Basch and his colleagues suggest that the improved survival time was because 77% of the symptom change notifications resulted in specific actions taken by nurses. These included “calls to provide symptom management counseling, supportive medications, chemotherapy dose modifications, and referrals”.

“Electronic patient-reported symptom monitoring may be considered for implementation as a part of high quality cancer care,” the researchers conclude.

  1. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/10.1001/jama.2017.7156
  2. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/10.1001/jama.2017.7156
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