Digital health support systems help improve health for people with breast cancer

5 May 2022
Benefits of going digital
A study has found people with breast cancer who received ongoing support through digital resources such as websites and mobile apps reported improved quality of life, and less stress and fatigue.

People with breast cancer who accessed digital support systems such as websites and mobile apps overall found it was a valuable resource in between medical appointments, making them more confident in managing their health and improving their quality of life.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers examined clinical trials in 11 countries involving over 4,500 breast cancer patients who used digital health support systems in the form of evidence-based websites, mobile apps or text messaging services.

The University of Sydney led global study is the largest of its kind, combining evidence from trials in 10 languages.

Key findings

The study found:

  • Health self-management websites and mobile apps improved quality of life, self-efficacy, stress and fatigue for breast cancer patients and survivors.
  • Having a doctor or cancer expert available to answer questions via email, phone, chatroom or text message was important to patients.
  • Satisfaction with websites was high (70-100 percent) with most people finding them useful (71-95 percent) and easy to use (73-92 percent).
There is a need to future-proof healthcare.
Dr Anna Singleton

Pandemic highlights the importance of digital

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in person supports for people with cancer were stopped, highlighting the need for health support and advice from a distance. Health resources outside of the clinic or medical appointments that could be accessed remotely proved invaluable.

Lead author Dr Anna Singleton, from the School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, says having accessible, high quality digital health resources overall made people with breast cancer feel like they had sustained medical advice and support between appointments.

“There is a need to future-proof healthcare,” said Dr Singleton.

“The health and digital landscape is shifting rapidly, and we found that breast cancer survivors felt having the option of evidence-based digital resources made them have a greater connection to, and more control over, their health.”

Dr Singleton was motivated to do the study when a close friend, Molly, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29 years old. As soon as Dr Singleton heard the news, she googled ‘cancer treatment’ and the search results were overwhelming.

“It was hard to decipher what information was based in science and what was not,” said Dr Singleton.

“I wanted to know if information online or other digital health strategies could help people feel better during and after treatment, if the information was evidence-based.”

Molly said the opportunity for digital health systems to deliver timely and relevant support from trusted sources has tremendous potential to bridge gaps in continuing care.

“In a post-cancer life and body, you are physically and emotionally exhausted after a year of treatment. Having support can make all the difference in someone’s willingness to take care of themselves.”

Declaration: The author declares no competing interests.

Ivy Shih

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Medicine and Health)

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