Cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment can cause high levels of distress, which is often not sufficiently addressed in standard medical care. Therefore, a variety of supportive nonpharmacological treatments have been suggested to reduce distress in patients with cancer. However, not all patients use these interventions because of limited access or lack of awareness. To overcome these barriers, mobile health may be a promising way to deliver the respective supportive treatments.
The aim of this study is to evaluate the effects and implementation of a mindfulness and relaxation app intervention for patients with cancer as well as patients’ adherence to such an intervention.
In this observational feasibility study with a mixed methods approach, patients with cancer were recruited through the web and through hospitals in Switzerland. All enrolled patients received access to a mindfulness and relaxation app. Patients completed self-reported outcomes (general health, health-related quality of life, anxiety, depression, distress, mindfulness, and fear of progression) at baseline and at weeks 4, 10, and 20. The frequency of app exercise usage was gathered directly through the app to assess the adherence of patients. In addition, we conducted interviews with 5 health professionals for their thoughts on the implementation of the app intervention in standard medical care. We analyzed patients’ self-reported outcomes using linear mixed models (LMMs) and qualitative data with content analysis.
A total of 100 patients with cancer (74 female) with a mean age of 53.2 years (SD 11.6) participated in the study, of which 25 patients used the app regularly until week 20. LMM analyses revealed improvements in anxiety (P=.04), distress (P<.001), fatigue (P=.01), sleep disturbance (P=.02), quality of life (P=.03), and mindfulness (P<.001) over the course of 20 weeks. Further LMM analyses revealed a larger improvement in distress (P<.001), a moderate improvement in anxiety (P=.001), and a larger improvement in depression (P=.03) in patients with high levels of symptoms at baseline in the respective domains. The interviews revealed that the health professionals perceived the app as a helpful addition to standard care. They also made suggestions for improvements, which could facilitate the implementation of and adherence to such an app.
This study indicates that a mindfulness and relaxation app for patients with cancer can be a feasible and effective way to deliver a self-care intervention, especially for highly distressed patients. Future studies should investigate if the appeal of the app can be increased with more content, and the effectiveness of such an intervention needs to be tested in a randomized controlled trial.