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Smart Phone App Keeps Meds on Track

Lauri LinderRemembering to take medication can be a struggle for anyone, but it’s usually a tougher challenge for teens and young adults with cancer. Finding an effective way to help this group stay on track with their medication was the focus of study co-led by Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) researchers Yelena Wu, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology, and Lauri Linder, PhDassociate professor of nursing. Results of the study were published this month in the journal Oncology Nursing Forum. 

As a group, adolescents and young adults (AYAs) (defined in this study as between the ages of 15–29) have experienced less improvement in cancer survival in recent decades relative to children and older adults with the disease. Researchers believe lack of adherence to taking cancer medications as prescribed is a key contributor to AYAs experiencing adverse cancer outcomes, such as disease relapse.

Wu, Linder, and their colleagues followed 23 AYA patients from HCI and Primary Children’s Hospital  being treated for cancer. Wu notes prior research shows AYAs have a difficult time taking their medications as prescribed.

“One of the common reasons they give is they simply forget. AYAs lead busy lives. They are in school, working, and potentially building their own families,” she explains.

The study participants were asked to download a reminder app to their smartphone that would notify them when they needed to take their medication. The participants were being treated for different types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, and sarcoma. Each participant was taking at least one oral medication as a part of their cancer-related treatment.

phone app

The 12-week-long study concluded most of the AYAs were willing to use a commercially available medication reminder app on their smartphones and found it helpful. The researchers believe electronic tools like smartphones may be part of a strategy to help patients in this age group take medication as prescribed, potentially improving cancer survival and quality of life.

Linder cautions the smartphone app is just one piece of the puzzle. “Oral medication adherence for AYAs with cancer is complex,” she says. “Although a medication reminder app shows promising results in this initial study, it should not be thought of as a replacement for other critical functions, like ongoing communication between the patient and their care team.”

The researchers plan to conduct another study to review longer-term use of the app with a larger, more diverse group of AYAs from multiple cancer treatment centers.


Debby Rogers
Huntsman Cancer Institute