Take Charge

Can Fitness Trackers Help Doctors with Your Cancer Treatment?

July 19, 2018

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By Kim Polacek

Fitness trackers are great for monitoring steps taken and your heart rate, but can they help predict outcomes for cancer patients? A new study suggests the answer could be yes.

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and John Hopkins University found that wrist-worn, consumer-based activity trackers can gather real-time, objective data that may help clinicians predict adverse events.

The study, published earlier this month in the journal Nature Digital Medicine, followed 37 people with advanced cancer, mostly pancreatic cancer patients. Each participant was given a Fitbit Charge HR, chosen by the researchers for its popularity and affordability, to use for two weeks. During that time frame, the patients saw their physicians three times for evaluation.

Dr. Brian Gonzalez, researcher in Moffitt's Health Outcomes and Behavior Program

The researchers analyzed the step, distance, stair and heart rate data from each Fitbit and compared it with the patient’s performance status, clinical outcomes and patient-reported outcomes. They found that there was a correlation between the average number of daily steps and patient performance status. For every 1,000 additional steps per day, the odds of an adverse event, such as hospitalization, were significantly lower.

“This study serves as a proof of concept that, even in patients with advanced cancer, consumer-grade activity trackers may be helpful in distinguishing patients with better versus worse quality of life. It is helpful to see that patients with better oncologist-rated level of functioning also demonstrated better objective measures of functioning, like taking more steps per day,” said Dr. Brian Gonzalez, a researcher in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Health Outcomes and Behavior Program.

Moffitt is also taking a closer look at the use of activity monitors among cancer patients. One study Dr. Gonzalez and his team are currently working on is testing whether the wearable technology can help physicians predict which patients are deteriorating.

“Having this information would help doctors intervene quickly to address problems before they result in an emergency,” said Dr. Gonzalez.