Computer algorithms may have benefited a lot of cancer patients in managing their symptoms. Now, a new study suggests that a system, developed by a team of researchers, may help cancer patients manage their symptoms as well.The study, published in the 'Journal of Clinical Oncology', suggests that patients reported better symptom control and physical wellbeing in the early weeks of treatment, with the system preventing symptom deterioration in about 9 per cent of patients after 12 weeks."Remote online monitoring options have the potential to be a patient-centreed, safe and effective approach to support patients during cancer treatment and manage the growing clinical workload for cancer care," said researcher Galina Velikova, a professor at the University of Leeds in the UK.For the study, the early-stage colorectal, breast or gynaecological cancer patients took part in the trial of the eRAPID system, which allowed them to report online symptoms from home and receive instant advice on whether to self-manage or seek medical attention.The study included 508 patients aged 18 to 86 years who were starting chemotherapy. All the patients received their usual care, with 256 receiving the eRAPID system as additional care.Participants answered a set of cancer-specific questions through an online symptom report once a week, or when new symptoms emerged, over the 18-week study period.
Using symptom severity grades, a computer algorithm designed by the researchers and clinicians scored all the responses and determined the advice the patients received.Questions covered pain levels, nausea, spending time in bed and not meeting family needs. Participants received immediate advice on symptom management or a prompt to contact the hospital.Symptom reports were immediately displayed in the patients' electronic records, and email alerts for severe symptom reports were sent directly to the clinicians.A total of 3,314 online reports were completed, reporting 18,867 individual symptoms -- an average of 13 reports per patient.Emergency alerts were sent 29 times (under 1 per cent), while serious symptoms not requiring immediate medical attention were reported on 461 occasions (14 per cent). More than 80 per cent of self-reported symptoms triggered self-management advice, providing a cost-effective solution with better outcomes for patients.Clinical benefits in patients' physical wellbeing were seen particularly at the early period of treatment, between week 6 and 12, when challenges in controlling the side-effects are expected.The immediate advice increased patient's confidence in managing the mild and moderate treatment-related symptoms, which can significantly impact a patient's quality of life and ability to continue treatment, the researchers said.