This week, the National Institutes of Health hosted the meeting “Cancer Detection and Diagnostics Technologies for Global Health” on its main campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The conference focused, in part, on developing and applying new technologies, and exploring low-cost cancer diagnostic technologies for treatable cancer in international health settings.

One tool that fits naturally within this context is mobile health (mHealth), or the use of mobile information communications technologies (such as cell phones) in healthcare practice. The technology is recognized for its ability to support diagnosis and other functions at relatively low cost, and because it can work in remote areas around the world. Cellular devices have proven especially invaluable to clinical management, vaccination adherence, remote biomedical monitoring, and health-related behavior change for chronic conditions.

But while public health practitioners are driving a mHealth revolution to target a vast range of diseases, mHealth interventions for cancer are relatively scarce. In a recent review of the literature conducted for the conference, HITLAB’s Cole Manship, Sonia Rupcic, Melody Wilding, and Stan Kachnowski found that only about 1 percent of articles on mHealth discussed programs for cancer.

Why? One potential reason for this scarcity may involve a reticence to incorporate cell phones into the treatment of cancer due to self-sustainable economic models and the potential for stakeholders to link mhealth to meaningful outcomes.

Nonetheless, as the HITLAB team presented this week at the NIH conference, several interventions demonstrate mHealth’s potential in multiple areas of cancer treatment: disease management, clinician support, prevention, patient-provider communication, and diagnosis and screening.

To build on this nascent success, our research shows that project leaders must tackle challenges of tech literacy (particularly among the elderly), financial issues and regulatory issues around data security and other guidelines. Only then can we widely deploy mHealth to tackle cancer.

Do you have a project that involves using mHealth for cancer prevention, diagnosis or treatment? If so, tell us about it here or talk to us on Twitter @HITLabNYC

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