Practical Apps 16: Breast Cancer

author

Dr. Stephen Pomedli
Toronto, Ontario

Bio

Dr. Stephen Pomedli is a family physician and the co-founder of ConsultLoop, an online referral platform that helps connect family doctors with specialists and betters the referral process for patients. He studied medicine at Harvard Medical School and completed a Master’s in International Health Policy at the London School of Economics. After his residency at St. Michael’s Hospital, he undertook a Global Health fellowship at the University of Toronto, looking at best practices in family medicine in Canada, the United States and Brazil. As a previous Innovation Fellow at Women’s College Hospital, he worked with a group of clinicians, entrepreneurs, designers and policy-makers to find new approaches to designing healthcare services, especially for patients with complex health care needs.

Apps Reviewed:

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MyBCTeam

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MyBCTeam focuses on providing online support and a social network for individuals who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. This site is one of a number of diagnosis-specific websites and apps created by myhealthteams.com to provide forums for discussion and support related to specific conditions (other sites include “DiabetesTeam” and “MyParkinsonsTeam”). The forums provide an active place for patients to share status updates and create a “team” of supportive individuals to follow (or who might follow them) during their cancer journey, and it is heartening to see the support that individuals give to one another through this community. While this app has the greatest potential for users to develop an online support network with meaningful interactions, this app should be recommended with caution, as some content appears to be sponsored by third parties without clear disclosure.

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Beyond the Shock

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Billed as the “first and foremost resource for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer”, Beyond the Shock is a basic and easy-to-use education and support iOS app. It is put out by the not-for-profit National Breast Cancer Foundation in the U.S., which does not seem to have particular ties to any industry groups (such as pharmaceutical companies). The app’s strength lies in providing a multilingual video series to explain the initial diagnosis of breast cancer, and in providing access to the narratives of others with breast cancer. A discussion forum enables users to discuss particular concerns, ask for advice, or view previously asked questions, but the forum isn’t particularly active, and doesn’t appear to be monitored for medical accuracy. As with most apps in this category, the educational focus is on diagnosis and treatment, with a notable lack of discussion regarding side effects related to cancer treatments, or symptom palliation.

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BECCA

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The BECCA app, developed by the Breast Cancer Care charity in the UK, provides links, resources and information to support individuals completing treatment for breast cancer via a series of browsable “flashcards”. While many of the flashcards provide interesting links and suggestions, the flashcard content feels quite random and leaves notable gaps, leading one to look elsewhere for more information. While the app design is clean and welcoming, most of the links are to external web-based resources and sites, some of which seem to be marketing particular products or services, with any financial relationships undisclosed. Many of the connected resources, including links to nurse support to answer specific questions, are UK-specific and thus less helpful for those living in other countries.

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My Cancer Coach

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My Cancer Coach, which includes the “My Breast Cancer Coach” stream within it, helps individuals understand the treatment options related to their specific diagnosis. By asking users to input disease-specific information from their breast cancer pathology report, the app then tailors a report that discusses types of treatments that may be most appropriate. There is a strong emphasis on curative modalities (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries), even when individuals indicate they have a Stage 4 diagnosis, with no mention of symptomatic treatment, palliative care or end-of-life therapies, which does patients a disservice. A major concern is that the app is built by a genetic diagnostics company, and the content often seems preoccupied with their proprietary testing and directs patients to affiliated websites without clearly declaring this sales slant.

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References:

1. Drewes, C., Kirkovits, T., Schiltz, D., Schinkoethe, T., Haidinger, R., Goldmann-Posch, U., Wuerstlein, R. (2016). EHealth Acceptance and New Media Preferences for Therapy Assistance Among Breast Cancer Patients. JMIR Cancer, 2(2). doi:10.2196/cancer.5711

2. Canadian Cancer Society, Statistics Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Health Agency of Canada (n.d.). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2016. Special topic: HPV-associated cancers (Canada, Government of Canada). Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/~/media/cancer.ca/CW/cancer%20information/cancer%20101/Canadian%20cancer%20statistics/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2016-EN.pdf?la=en

3. Maughan, K.L., Lutterbie, M.A. and P.S. Ham, P.S. Treatment of breast cancer. Am Fam Physician, 2010. 81(11): p. 1339-46.

4. Ginossar, T., Shah, S. F., West, A. J., Bentley, J. M., Caburnay, C. A., Kreuter, M. W., Kinney, A. Y. (2017). Content, Usability, and Utilization of Plain Language in Breast Cancer Mobile Phone Apps: A Systematic Analysis. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 5(3). doi:10.2196/mhealth.7073

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