This story covered a four-month randomized feasibility trial to see how well a text messaging system relieved stress of women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Based on an abstract presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, the story provided some interesting data, such as older women were more likely to text back to seek information. But it skimped on important details like cost, availability and how big the benefits were.
Quality of life has historically been overlooked in cancer care, so it’s nice to see a news story that highlights research aiming to improve it. On the other hand, technology isn’t a panacea and news stories should quantify the purported benefits just as they would for drugs and other interventions.
How much would a texting system cost? Who would pay for it? Would it require extra staffing at the doctor’s office? This story left us wondering.
The story reported that women with the texting tool “reported an overall lower level of distress and a higher quality of life during their therapy” and “felt they had better communication with their doctors” versus women who received an American Cancer Society pamphlet on chemotherapy.
A research states at the four-month mark “the gap was huge” between the texting and control groups.
But there are no numbers to quantify what’s “huge.”
The story stated texting “also played a role in helping patients feel like they were in control of their treatment, particularly during the first month.” But there was no data to quantify that benefit.
The story said texting “did not affect the odds of developing symptoms of depression,” but didn’t say how many women got depressed.
The story also didn’t differentiate between receiving the twice daily texts (content unknown) with being able to text someone questions. It’s unclear which component of the texting tool was the most effective.
There don’t appear to be any harms associated with text messages, barring potential distraction while driving. Hence, this criterion doesn’t apply.
The story mentioned this was a feasibility trial, implying there might be bugs that have yet be worked out. It also said 100 women participated.
Still, there’s not a lot of information to help readers determine the strength of the evidence. For example, it could have explained that, as the abstract stated, “Further research is needed to develop additional tailoring and personalization per participants’ feedback.” And that it was presented at a conference, which means it’s preliminary data, not published or peer-reviewed.
The story didn’t explain the context of the twice daily texts. Was it just information? Was the piece of the texts that was most helpful having someone available at any hour of the day to answer questions? To me, it could be that the information received through texts was specific to that person’s situation versus a generic pamphlet. Also, they said in the first paragraph that it was a “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.” What about anxiety that is caused by the cost of treatment or figuring out your next medical appointment will reveal whether the treatment is effective? Without understanding the context of the texts, it’s hard to judge the quality of the evidence that the program was effective at reducing anxiety related to fatigue, hair loss, and body changes.
No disease-mongering here. We couldn’t find good data on how common chemotherapy treatments are and how many patients might benefit from better support and clinician communication, but certainly the number is great.
There were no independent sources. While we couldn’t identify any conflicts of interest, some of the researchers receive payments from industry. The article fell short by not indicating who funded the study.
The story mentioned a control group that received pamphlets about chemotherapy. It wasn’t clear if that was the current standard method of helping women cope. Also, the story could have explored existing options such as such as online support groups or regular check-ins with a doctor’s office, or already existing ask-a-nurse lines that are open all the time for patients.
The story mentioned this was a feasibility study, signalling the system isn’t available. Still, it could have explored whether any text messaging systems are being used for chemo patients.
The story lacked context about the increasing use of text messaging for patients support, including during chemotherapy, and it didn’t explain how this system works. Did clinicians answer patients’ texts, or were the answers given by a computer? It’s not clear.
The story didn’t rely on a news release.