Warning about breast cancer apps

Evidence lacking in many of them
  • Deborah Condon

Concern has been expressed about the quality of health and wellbeing apps that are aimed at breast cancer patients.

According to new research by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, there are currently 600 mobile apps aimed at breast cancer patients in the iOS and Android app stores. This figure has been steadily rising since 2009.

However, working with European research partners, the Insight Centre has found a number of issues relating to these apps, including a lack of sources and references to back up the information provided.

Among the apps targeted at patients, 30% provided information about disease and treatment, around 20% dealt with disease management and 15% were aimed at prevention and raising awareness.

However, less than 20% of these apps listed any sources or references in their descriptions, while over 75% provided no disclaimer about usage.

According to research leader, Dr Guido Giunti, of Salumedia Tecnologias in Spain, information is useful ‘provided it is correct'.

"We found that the breast cancer app ecosystem largely consists of start-ups and individual entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling whether the information contained in the app is reliable. If an app is created by say, the HSE or the NHS, you know you can trust the information in it, but it may not be as attractive or as user friendly as some of the competition," he noted.

Meanwhile, 10% of the apps were found to include alternative or complementary therapies. This was described as concerning by Estefania Guisado Fernández of the Insight Centre.

"When an app from a reputable medical source sits alongside one about homeopathy for breast cancer, the former risks lending credibility to the latter. Overall, evidence base seems to be lacking in these apps, and in my opinion, it is essential that expert medical personnel be involved in the creation of medical apps," she insisted.

Details of these findings are published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics.

The Insight Centre for Data Analytics was established in 2013 by Science Foundation Ireland. It is a join initiative between Dublin City University, the National University of Ireland, Galway, University College Cork, and University College Dublin.


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