Study: Cancer Patients Lived Longer Using Tool to Report Symptoms

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Researchers from several US cancer centers have found that patients who used an online tool to report symptoms to their cancer care team lived an average of 5 months longer than patients who did not use the tool. The study was presented at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting and was published June 4 as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and involved 766 people with advanced cancer who were being treated with chemotherapy. The patients were randomly assigned to either the usual care group, or to the patient-reported outcome group.

Patients in the second group used a web-based tool to report on 12 common symptoms, including pain, nausea, and fatigue. Reporting a severe or worsening symptom triggered an email to a nurse, who could then follow up with the patient. In fact, nurses responded 77% of the time. Responses included calling back with advice, prescribing medications, adjusting chemotherapy doses, and providing referrals. The tool also generated a report that was sent to the oncologist and could be used for discussion during clinic visits.

Patients in the usual care group could discuss symptoms during clinic visits and contact their health care team by telephone between visits to report symptoms.

Average overall survival was 31.2 months in the patient-reported outcome group, compared with 26 months in the usual care group. In addition, those in the patient-reported outcome group continued chemotherapy for an average 8.2 months compared with 6.3 months in the usual care group. The study authors speculate the early responsiveness prevented symptoms from getting worse and causing more health problems, and also may have helped patients tolerate chemotherapy longer.

Chemotherapy symptoms can be treated

Mamta Kalidas, MD, medical editor for the American Cancer Society and a practicing medical oncologist, advises patients to tell their health care providers when something is wrong. “Patients often feel they are supposed to suffer through cancer treatment. I encourage them to report their symptoms, by phone or in person, and remind them that nowadays there are many good medicines to treat the side effects,” said Kalidas.

Symptoms from chemotherapy are common among people with advanced cancer. But according to the study authors, they go undetected by health care providers as much as half the time. When providers know about the symptoms, they can often treat them. Palliative care, which is any treatment designed to ease symptoms, pain, and stress, should be available to all cancer patients.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Overall Survival Results of a Trial Assessing Patient-Reported Outcomes for Symptom Monitoring During Routine Cancer Treatment. Published June 4, 2017 in Journal of the American Medical Association. First author Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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