Results Summary

What was the research about?

Patients with cancer must often take chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses medicines to stop the growth of cancer cells. Many patients prefer taking the medicines at home and by mouth, called oral chemotherapy, rather than getting infusions at a medical center. Patients taking oral chemotherapy must remember to take the medicines on time. They must also deal with side effects or symptoms at home.

The research team wanted to learn if a smartphone app could help patients follow oral chemotherapy treatment plans at home. The smartphone app included reminders of when to take the medicines. It also provided information on cancer care and coping with side effects. Patients could use the app to send weekly reports of their side effects or symptoms to their doctors.

What were the results?

The research team found no differences between patients who did and didn’t use the smartphone app in

  • Taking oral chemotherapy as planned
  • Having symptoms or side effects from the chemotherapy
  • Improving their quality of life

Who was in the study?

The study included 181 adult patients receiving oral chemotherapy. The patients received care from a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. All the patients owned a smartphone.

Of these patients, 54 percent were women, 88 percent were white, and 12 percent were other races. The average age was 53. Patients had different types of cancer, including cancers of the blood (33 percent), lung (18 percent), breast (14 percent), and brain (11 percent).

What did the research team do?

To develop and test the smartphone app, the research team worked with patients, cancer doctors, and health system workers. Then, the team assigned patients to one of two groups by chance. Patients in the first group received chemotherapy and used the app. Patients in the second group received chemotherapy but didn’t use the app. All patients used medicine bottles with special caps that recorded the date and time they opened their pill bottles to take medicine. Patients also took a survey before the study and again about 12 weeks later.

The research team compared the results for patients who did and who didn’t use the smartphone app. In addition, the team looked at whether the smartphone app might work better for certain types of patients. The study found that patients who had high anxiety, had a history of problems taking oral chemotherapy as planned, or were older than 55 appeared to benefit from the smartphone app. However, researchers need to do more studies to confirm these results.

What were the limits of the study?

The study took place in one hospital system. Most of the patients were white. Results may have been different for other hospital systems or groups of people. Using the special bottle caps that recorded when the patients opened their pill bottles may have made patients more likely to take their medicine, which may have changed the results of the study.

Future research could focus on patients who have a history of problems taking oral chemotherapy as planned, have high anxiety, or are older than 55.

How can people use the results?

Researchers can use these results to further study ways to help support patients who are taking oral chemotherapy.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also confirms that the research has followed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts who were not members of the research team read a draft report of the research. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. Reviewers do not have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve how the research team analyzed its results or reported its conclusions. Learn more about PCORI’s peer-review process here.

In response to peer review, the PI made changes including

  • Expanding on the qualitative methods used in the research, and clarifying that the research should not be considered mixed methods since the qualitative work was done as part of engagement activities with study partners rather than as research with study participants.
  • Revising the abstract, results, and discussion to acknowledge clearly that there was no significant difference between the intervention and comparison groups on the primary outcomes of adherence or self-reported symptoms, as well as overall quality of life or quality of care. Reviewers were concerned this was not clear because of the large number of subgroup and other analyses described in the report.
  • Indicating that a small number of patients were recruited from community sites rather than from the academic medical center. Therefore, it was not possible to test for differences between sites.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Joseph A. Greer, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital
Mobile Application for Improving Symptoms and Adherence to Oral Chemotherapy in Patients with Cancer

Key Dates

December 2013
May 2018

Study Registration Information


Has Results
Award Type
Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: March 14, 2024