There are a number of apps in the app stores to support people with cancer and their caregivers. Some apps focus on cancer in general, while others are for a specific type of cancer, such as breast cancer, skin cancer or colorectal cancer. Overall there is very little guidance to help users find apps to meet their needs. The following are some handy tips for you to consider when choosing cancer apps.
What is the primary purpose of the app?
When considering an app, start by assessing the main purpose of the app. The purpose of cancer apps can be broadly categorised as follows:
- Disease management – information and practical tools to deal with the medical, behavioural or emotional aspects of cancer. For example, these apps can help you track symptoms, side effects, treatments and chronic pain; help you plan and organise your care; provide tips for managing symptoms; set alarms so you remember your medication and so on.
- Disease and treatment information – information about disease or treatment options, including a glossary of cancer terms.
- Educational – general information and tools to raise public recognition of cancer as a societal problem that includes descriptions and statistics.
- Fundraising – tools to attract financial resources.
- Prevention – information and practical tools to avoid cancer, including the recurrence of cancer.
- Early detection – information and tools to help you identify cancer before symptoms or signs emerge. These apps promote self-examination, such as breast self-examination and mole/skin check apps.
- Support – access to peer or professional assistance, including information/photo sharing eg, apps that can connect you with health providers, share medical records and support sharing updates on social media.1,2
Who is the app sponsored by?
Most cancer apps (90%) are developed by commercial entities such as pharmaceutical companies and private and for-profit organisations. Only 10% of apps are associated with medical institutions or affiliated with medical societies (eg, the American Cancer Society and American Society of Clinical Oncology).1
Does the app have health provider involvement?
There is no legal requirement for health apps to have input from health professionals. As a result many health apps do not have credible sources and may not have information on keeping safe and best practice. Few cancer app descriptions state whether health providers were involved in screening or appraising app content.
Researchers have found that only 3% of app descriptions stated content had been developed or evaluated by health providers (eg, working groups or multiple health providers). For example, apps that stated content was developed and approved by oncologists as well as nutritionists who are registered dietitians were considered to have some level of health provider involvement.
The four ‘D’s
Thinking about the four ‘D’s can be a way of helping you work out whether a cancer app is right for you:
- Does it do something useful – does it solve a problem you are having?
- Design – are there screenshots that summarise the content and give you an impression of how you would use the app?
- Developer – do you recognise a credible organisation/source behind the app, and do links to the developer website work?
- Data – does the app ask you for personal information that you would prefer not to be shared with others or provide a transparent description of how data will be used and shared?²
- Charbonneau DH, Hightower S, Katz A, et al. Smartphone apps for cancer: A content analysis of the digital health marketplace. Digit Health. 2020 Feb 11;6:
- Adam R, McMichael D, Powell D, et al. Publicly available apps for cancer survivors: a scoping review. BMJ Open, 2019