Journal of Medical Internet Research Roundtable

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A Lot of Action, But Not in the Right Direction: Systematic Review and Content Analysis of Smartphone Applications for the Prevention, Detection, and Management of Cancer

1ELLICSR Health, Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada

2Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada

3Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

4Universite Montpellier, Montpellier, France


Background: Mobile phones have become nearly ubiquitous, offering a promising means to deliver health interventions. However, little is known about smartphone applications (apps) for cancer.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to characterize the purpose and content of cancer-focused smartphone apps available for use by the general public and the evidence on their utility or effectiveness.

Methods: We 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.

Results: A total of 295 apps from the smartphone app stores met the inclusion criteria. The majority of apps targeted breast cancer (46.8%, 138/295) or cancer in general (28.5%, 84/295). The reported app purpose was predominantly to raise awareness about cancer (32.2%, 95/295) or to provide educational information about cancer (26.4%, 78/295), followed by apps to support fundraising efforts (12.9%, 38/295), assist in early detection (11.5%, 34/295), promote a charitable organization (10.2%, 30/295), support disease management (3.7%, 11/295), cancer prevention (2.0%, 6/295), or social support (1.0%, 3/295). The majority of the apps did not describe their organizational affiliation (64.1%, 189/295). Apps affiliated with non-profit organizations were more likely to be free of cost (χ21=16.3, P<.001) and have a fundraising or awareness purpose (χ22=13.3, P=.001). The review of the health literature yielded 594 articles, none of which reported an evaluation of a cancer-focused smartphone application.

Conclusions: There are hundreds of cancer-focused apps with the potential to enhance efforts to promote behavior change, to monitor a host of symptoms and physiological indicators of disease, and to provide real-time supportive interventions, conveniently and at low cost. However, there is a lack of evidence on their utility, effectiveness, and safety. Future efforts should focus on improving and consolidating the evidence base into a whitelist for public consumption.

J Med Internet Res 2013;15(12):e287)


Originally Published December 23, 2013 in the Journal of Internet Medical Research

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