Automatic texting helps ease stress of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients

FILE PHOTO: A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice July 26, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

(Reuters Health) – A system of automated twice-daily texts and the ability to use text messaging to receive answers to questions about treatment helps relieve some of the stress of chemotherapy for women with breast cancer, researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia reported Monday.

The feasibility study was designed to see if texting could relieve some of the anxiety that comes with the fatigue, hair loss and other body changes that can accompany anticancer drugs.

Compared to 52 women who only received an American Cancer Society pamphlet on chemotherapy, the 48 women in the texting group reported an overall lower level of distress and a higher quality of life during their therapy. They also felt they had better communication with their doctors.

The text messages were most effective at reducing distress at the 2- and 4-month marks, according to the data presented by chief author Kuang-Yi Wen, an assistant professor in the Cancer Prevention and Control program at Fox Chase. At the fourth month mark, “the gap was huge” between the texting and control groups, she told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Texting also played a role in helping patients feel like they were in control of their treatment, particularly during the first month.

Texting did not affect the odds of developing symptoms of depression.

Surprisingly, the older the patient, the greater the likelihood that she would text back, seeking more information.

One of the patients texted the program 1,217 times. “That’s what’s good about this program. Everyone has different information-seeking behavior” and the system can respond to that, Dr. Wen said.

The findings were released at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.

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