Recently, the ‘COVID Symptom Tracker’ app was updated to collect information specifically on cancer patients and survivors. In this interview, the CEO of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C; CA, USA), Sung Poblete, PHD, RN speaks to us about SU2C’s involvement in the COVID-19 symptom tracker app. He explains why it is so important to collect data on at-risk populations, including cancer patients and survivors. In addition, Poblete discusses the challenges of using an app to track a viral pandemic. Finally, he covers how the principle can be translated to help improve other areas of oncology.
The ‘COVID Symptom Tracker’ app was created by doctors and scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital (both MA, USA), King’s College London (UK) and Stanford University School of Medicine (CA, USA), working in partnership with ZOE Global (London), a health sciences company. These researchers include Leader of the SU2C Gastric Cancer Research Team and public health expert Andrew Chan, MD, MPH (Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health).
Dr. Chan introduced us to the ‘COVID Symptom Tracker’ app. We saw an opportunity to add value by including questions specific to cancer patients. This is because cancer patients are at higher risk for COVID-19. The scientists developing that app took our advice and recommendations. They added in questions related to cancer diagnosis and treatments for those inputting data into the app. These included if they are living with cancer, what type of cancer, what treatment they are receiving, if they are in a clinical trial and where they are receiving treatment.
Our mission at SU2C is to get new therapies to patients quickly. This is why the COVID-19 symptom tracker app is so important and why we wanted to get involved. While there is a lot that we don’t know about COVID-19, the medical community does know that individuals with cancer and those receiving treatments are more susceptible. Both patients and survivors are at an increased risk for contracting a more severe case of COVID-19.
Teams from Massachusetts General Hospital, in collaboration with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London and Stanford University School of Medicine, analyzed the data. This will help to monitor public health, and understand more about COVID-19 and how different individuals and communities experience symptoms of COVID-19. It will also help to rapidly identify emerging clusters of COVID-19 infections. Our hope is that the data from cancer patients and survivors can help to further find answers to these questions. Hopefully, it will help us understand why those with cancer and those receiving anticancer therapies being at an increased risk for contracting a more severe case of the illness.
Cancer impacts so many people and their families, more than 1.7 million individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. In addition, more than 16.9 million in the USA are cancer survivors. By including questions specific to cancer patients and survivors, we are hoping to improve outcomes for the cancer community. We also hope to find the answers to so many COVID-19 health care questions when it comes these more at-risk populations. The data will help us learn how we can best support this high-risk community. It will also allow us to give informed medical advice when it comes to this rapidly emerging and spreading disease.
This is a new disease and there are a lot of questions that researchers and the medical community are still trying to find the answers to. As we learn more about COVID-19, as more people use the app and more data is inputted, scientists will be able to better refine the app in order to get data that is the most relevant and valuable. We will be able to answer the pressing questions when it comes to understanding COVID-19 and the impact it has on high-risk populations. Another factor is that the app becomes more valuable as more people download it and input their data. This is why spreading awareness of the app and it’s benefits in order to increase use is critical to its success.
This app-based study is a way to find out where the COVID-19 hotspots are and new symptoms to look out for. It might be used as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks. When cancer patients and survivors participate, this app provides a way to study in real-time the onset of COVID-19 compared to the general population. Right now, we just don’t have information to specifically guide cancer patients and survivors.
The data from the app has already been able to provide valuable information on the disease spread and symptoms. Scientists were able to determine that losing your sense of smell and taste can be a symptom of COVID-19. It has been determined that this symptom is a stronger predicter of positive diagnoses than a fever. According to data from the app, almost 60% of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 reported losing their sense of smell and taste. This is compared with 18% of those who tested negative. These are the kind of insights that are so important when it comes to better understanding this disease, increasing diagnoses and slowing the spread.
The analysis is being conducted in real-time. For example, over five days from 24 March–29 March, 1.5 million app users participated, with 26% reporting symptoms. The researchers were able to confirm that 60% of patients participating in the COVID-19 symptom tracker app who tested positive for COVID-19 reported losing their sense of smell and taste. These results, which were not peer-reviewed, were much stronger in predicting a positive COVID-19 diagnosis than self-reported fever, according to the app researchers at King’s College London. This analysis provides timely, critical insights to frontline health care providers and the public who might experience loss of smell or taste before experiencing a fever. This real-time data assessment is an essential tool in a rapidly changing public health situation.
All of this health data being collected is patient-generated and owned. There is a growing appetite for patients to share their data, and there’s tremendous value in patient contributed information. For example, there is a growing body of work in which patients are contributing personal health information to research efforts. This includes sharing results of genetic testing to better identify biomarkers associated with various cancers.
The cancer community is seeking to reduce barriers to participation in clinical trials. Patient-focused apps may support those efforts, identifying, in real-time, reactions and response to treatments. There’s also great potential to track cancer patient responses to widespread illnesses. For example, annual cycles of influenza, or responses to stress events. To the extent that we can involve patients. We should involve them in supplying data for the greater good and better health outcomes, we should optimize those opportunities. I think we are just beginning to see the potential for expanded use in oncology.
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The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oncology Central or Future Science Group.