Young cancer patients would now be able to manage side-effects of chemotherapy with the help of cell phones, thanks to British researchers, who have developed specially adapted mobile phones on which the patients can record and send details of all their symptoms to the medical professionals managing their care.
The phones are also capable of giving basic advice about the most common symptoms, and if the symptoms are serious enough, the phone triggers an alert at the hospital so that specially trained cancer nurses can ring the patient and, if necessary, ask him or her to come into hospital.
"Chemotherapy for cancer can cause many unpleasant, distressing and sometimes life-threatening side-effects, which can have a huge impact on a young person's life," said Dr Faith Gibson, a senior lecturer in children's cancer nursing research at the Institute of Child Health (London, UK).
"The Advanced Symptom Management System for Young People(ASyMS(c)-YG) that we are developing could revolutionise their care, giving them support and confidence in being able to manage their symptoms, as well as giving medical teams valuable information on a day-to-day basis about the way the patient has reacted to their treatment.
"I think this is a really exciting development and it could make a real difference in clinical care," Dr Gibson added.
The ASyMS(c)-YG involves young people reporting their symptoms each day after having chemotherapy by completing a questionnaire on the mobile phone, which is similar to a PDA (personal digital assistant) or Blackberry.
The symptom reports are sent to a central server and nurses at the hospital can view them on a web page.
The patient can also view their symptoms on the phone in the form of graphs, which show how their symptoms have changed over time. Once they have reported symptoms, the young person automatically receives a text message giving them advice about what to do.
In the latest phase of development, the patient can click on a button that immediately gives them advice about management of the most common symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, sickness etc.
If the symptoms are severe or getting worse, a nurse is automatically paged to contact the patient at home to offer advice and support.
So far, it has been tested in teenagers aged 13-18 with lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma and bone tumours, but the researchers hope to extend it to different groups, such as patients with leukaemia.
Teenagers said that it was useful because it gave them a record of their symptoms to talk about when they attended clinic.
The report was presented at Teenage Cancer Trust's Fifth International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Medicine.