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Fitness Trackers and Cancer Patient Well-Being

Through funds raised at Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia, the Colon Cancer Coalition is proud to have supported researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center as they demonstrated that fitness trackers such as Fitbit are helpful tools for assessing a colorectal cancer patient’s ability to perform daily activities (performance status). Performance status in cancer patients is used to determine whether they may tolerate more or less aggressive forms of treatment and measuring how they are faring during treatment.

Dr. Namrata “Neena” Vijayvergia, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Dr. Namrata “Neena” Vijayvergia

Maria Grasso

“Quality of life during colorectal cancer treatment is so important for patients to maintain a positive outlook and achieve a positive outcome,” stated Maria Grasso, Local Event Director for Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia. “We are happy to support this research that will help guide oncologists and other physicians as they treat and guide colorectal cancer patients.”

Typically health care providers assess patients’ performance status during an office visit. Unfortunately, these ratings can vary between providers and are based upon a short interaction they have with the patient.

To help provide a more standard assessment, Namrata “Neena” Vijayvergia, MD, assistant chief of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at Fox Chase, and a team of researchers decided to test fitness trackers.

Vijayvergia, along with Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, chief of General Surgery at Fox Chase, and their research team worked with colorectal cancer patients (stages II-IV), half being treated with chemotherapy and half with surgery. Each patient was given a Fitbit Charge and asked to wear it for four days prior to receiving treatment and again four weeks after.

Dr. Jeffrey Farma, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Dr. Jeffrey Farma

The research team found that patients’ step counts recorded by the fitness tracker closely correlated with their provider-assessed performance status, which is measured on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being symptom-free and fully functional. For instance, patients whose providers rated their performance status as 0 took an average of 6,300 steps per day. Patients assessed at performance status 1 took an average of 2,900 steps per day.

Toxicity, the side effects patients experience from treatment, also correlated with step count. The researchers hypothesized that patients who took 5,000 or more steps per day would also experience lower toxicity, while patients who took fewer than 5,000 steps would have higher toxicity. The findings supported this.

Due to the sample makeup and study design, however, the secondary findings of correlations between step count and performance status and toxicity, respectively, are not strong enough to draw definitive conclusions. But Vijayvergia added that they will be jumping-off points to guide future research.

The paper, “Feasibility of Fitness Tracker Usage to Assess Activity Level and Toxicities in Patients With Colorectal Cancer,” was published in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. In addition to the funding from the Colon Cancer Coalition, the study was supported by funding from the American Cancer Society.

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