According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death for people in the United States. And this year alone, there will be nearly 2 million people diagnosed with cancer. They will join the over 18 million Americans already living with cancer.
Advancements in diagnosing and treating cancer have focused primarily on imaging, chemical and radiation treatments, and other biological avenues. One area that has been less explored, but that shows much potential, is the use of connected devices and digital health solutions.
Here, we look at the benefits and current uses of connected devices and SaMD in cancer treatment. And offer a look at the untapped potential and many opportunities that still exist in this vital market.
Overview of the Cancer Treatment Landscape
Cancer treatment brings with it a wealth of challenges that plague every aspect of the disease from diagnosis to long-term treatment.
Early detection remains a significant challenge with many cancers diagnosed at advanced stages when treatment options are limited and the chances of survival are low. Regardless of when it’s caught, cancer is a complex and heterogeneous disease, and each patient’s cancer can have unique characteristics. Determining the most effective treatment approach for each individual is challenging.
Cancer cells can develop resistance to treatment over time, leading to treatment failure and disease progression. And, unfortunately, many of the most effective treatments can cause significant side effects and toxicity. While treatment advancements continue to reduce side effects and increase effectiveness, access to these is limited due to high costs, availability, and healthcare infrastructure disparities.
Worse still, developing these new treatments is often restricted by poor clinical trial recruitment. Enrolling patients in these trials is challenging due to strict eligibility criteria, lack of awareness, logistical issues, and patient reluctance. And studies that look strictly at data are inhibited by the challenges of effectively managing, integrating, and analyzing such vast amounts of information to derive meaningful insights.
In many cases, the most limiting aspect of cancer treatment is the cost, which can be substantial to the patient as well as to hospitals investing in cutting-edge treatments and providers who issue coverage for these treatments.
In no other field is the need for cost-effective, burden-reducing innovation more necessary than in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We believe that leveraging connected devices, SaMD, and advancements in medical technology has the potential to revolutionize the cancer treatment landscape.
Connected Devices in Cancer Treatment
Recently, we’ve begun to see innovative applications of wearable devices, such as smartwatches and biosensors, in treatment tracking and precision medicine applications. More common, though, is the use of smart imaging technologies, such as integrated PET scanners and MRIs, to aid in early diagnosis and treatment planning. Connected drug delivery systems and remote patient monitoring systems are also becoming more widely used.
Benefits of Connected Devices in Cancer Care
The rise of connected device use in cancer diagnosis and care has been driven largely by the many benefits provided by them, both to the patient and their care team.
Real-Time Monitoring and Data Collection
Connected devices enable healthcare providers to gather accurate and timely information about a patient’s health status, treatment response, and overall well-being.
Wearable devices help monitor patients and report changes in vital signs that may indicate a negative treatment reaction or progression of the disease. Compared to self-reporting and questionnaires, connected devices have proven more accurate in relaying patient activity levels and treatment adherence.
Remote Patient Management
Connected devices are unique in their ability to allow the monitoring of a patient’s health status, treatment response, and overall well-being from a distance.
Connected wearable devices provide continuous monitoring of vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and activity levels. When paired with an interactive platform, such as a medical mobile app, they allow for comprehensive remote symptom monitoring regardless of where the patient is. These metrics can be analyzed to provide insight into side effects and the overall well-being of the patient outside the hospital. Connected devices of various kinds facilitate remote clinical assessments which can be helpful for both long-distance care and broadening the subject pool for clinical trials.
Personalized Treatment Approaches
By leveraging data collection, real-time monitoring, and advanced analytics, connected devices enable healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans based on an individual’s unique characteristics.
Through wearable devices, imaging technologies, and remote reporting, healthcare providers can assess how a patient’s tumor is responding to treatment in real-time. This information helps guide treatment decisions and modifications. These devices also provide real-time data that allows healthcare providers to adapt treatment plans based on an individual’s specific needs and tolerability. Predictive analytics using longitudinal patient data from connected devices helps predict treatment outcomes, identify patients at higher risk of adverse events, and estimate the probability of treatment response.
Enhanced Patient Engagement and Adherence
By providing tools for communication, education, monitoring, and support, connected devices empower patients to actively participate in their treatment journey.
Connected devices, such as smartphones or wearable devices, can deliver personalized treatment reminders to help patients stay on track with their treatment plan. Some device platforms enable patients to track and report their symptoms and treatment side effects remotely, allowing for quick adjustments or additional therapies to provide relief. The self-monitoring options available on some devices enhance patient engagement and encourage a proactive approach to health management.
Current Applications of Connected Devices in Cancer Treatment
While not as common as in other fields, the benefits of using connected devices in cancer diagnosis and treatment have led to greater utilization of these tools in oncology in recent years. Some of these methods are still in their infancy or showing promise in clinical trials, while others are already making a difference in the lives of real cancer patients.
Remote Monitoring and Early Detection
Connected devices leverage technology to facilitate screening, monitoring, and detection of cancer in its early stages. Advanced image processing algorithms and artificial intelligence used to analyze mammograms, MRIs, and CT scans have proven potential to identify early cancer growth. Many wearable biosensors in development can measure changes in skin temperature, heart rate variability, and levels of certain molecules in sweat or saliva to identify cancer biomarkers before symptoms begin.
After diagnosis, connected devices can continue to inform doctors of potential problems using remote monitoring. This approach was utilized in two studies that looked at post-treatment responses in adults and children. Using data from wearable devices, the researchers were able to detect biomarkers associated with post-treatment frailty(1)(2). Biomarkers of this kind could be used to develop user-friendly wearable solutions to monitor patients post-treatment to facilitate early intervention to gain more positive outcomes.
Connected devices play a crucial role in treatment optimization and precision medicine in cancer care. Wearable sensors, remote monitoring systems, and mobile applications enable real-time monitoring of patients’ health parameters, treatment response, and adherence. Healthcare providers analyze this data to optimize treatment plans, make timely interventions, and adjust therapies based on real-time information. Infusion pumps equipped with connectivity features that can deliver chemotherapy drugs at precise rates and monitor patients’ responses are a great example of this.
Many wearable devices have the potential to inform treatment teams of the effectiveness of any given treatment before completion to allow for adjustments based on individual patient need. This kind of individualized approach is especially helpful during radiation and chemotherapy treatment as it allows doctors to adjust dosing for maximum effect while safeguarding organs against toxicity(3). One such wearable, which was originally created to monitor asthma patients, is currently being tested for use in lung cancer patients receiving radiation therapy(4).
These devices have also improved on previous methodologies to ensure more accurate assessments of treatment outcomes. Studies have shown that traditional performance status scoring methods are far less accurate than performance scores calculated from data provided by wearable devices(5).
Connected devices are being increasingly utilized for supportive care in cancer treatment to enhance patient well-being, manage treatment-related side effects, and improve overall quality of life. Some systems enable patients to track and report their symptoms in real-time while allowing healthcare providers to remotely access this information to provide interventions and recommendations. These kinds of devices can also monitor emotional well-being using biosensors perfected for mental health treatment.
Sensors capable of detecting biomarkers for specific post-treatment complications have also been well studied. By reanalyzing data from a study on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, researchers were able to identify a digital biomarker for cancer-related fatigue that could be helpful in enhancing post-treatment supportive care(6). Another study found a link between step counts reported by wearable fitness trackers and rehospitalization risk post-treatment for patients who had undergone concurrent chemoradiotherapy(7). Interestingly, this link was not detected using self-reported activity information provided to doctors.
A health system in Louisiana offered their chemotherapy patients free home monitoring devices, including smart scales, thermometers, and blood pressure cuffs. Early intervention and treatment adjustments made possible thanks to the additional data provided by these devices reduced emergency room visits and healthcare costs by an estimated $1.2 million. And 90% of participants reported high satisfaction with the care program(8).
Data-Driven Research and Clinical Trials
Connected devices have a proven ability to enhance the efficiency, accuracy, and scope of research studies and clinical trials. One systematic review of the use of wearables in cancer research found that outcomes based on connected device data and patient-reported information varied significantly. The report looked at sensor data for physical activity, circadian rhythm, sleep, and skin temperature and compared the values to patient-reported statistics. They found these values significantly deviated in eight out of seventeen clinical trials(9). By utilizing connected devices, studies are more likely to produce reliable and accurate data for interpretation.
Because of the remote nature of data collection available with many devices, they also do a great deal to increase access to clinical trials to increase participant numbers. This feature also acts to help decentralize trials for cancer patients in order to reach more people in remote and underserved communities.
Opportunities for MedTech Companies
There are proven benefits to utilizing connected devices in cancer diagnosis, treatment, and post-intervention care. Yet, very few accessible options are available to care teams and those living with cancer. This presents many opportunities for innovative MedTech companies to enter this market and enhance cancer treatment options, aid in early diagnosis, or leverage AI for better outcomes across the board.
Connected Device Innovation for Cancer Treatment
There is a growing demand for connected devices that can monitor patients’ health parameters, treatment responses, and adherence in real time. Focusing on creating innovative wearable devices, remote monitoring systems, and smart sensors that capture and transmit data seamlessly will be invaluable in this field in the near future. These devices will need to integrate with data analytics platforms to provide actionable insights to healthcare providers, enabling them to optimize treatment plans and interventions.
Novel sensors that can detect biomarkers associated with cancer progression and regression are lacking in the current market. As are those that are able to detect changes in cancer behavior in response to treatments. Utilizing a multi-sensor approach that can look at various data streams, including physiological input, emotional markers, and genetics, will be especially helpful for enhancing personalized treatment and precision medicine.
Connected Devices for Early Detection
Early detection of cancer plays a crucial role in improving treatment outcomes, reducing healthcare costs, and saving lives. Yet, this aspect of cancer care is one of the most neglected in terms of leveraging the power of connected devices and digital health platforms.
Developing connected devices that facilitate early screening and diagnosis of cancer utilizing non-invasive or minimally invasive methods would go a long way to improving cancer outcomes. Even if these devices functioned as pre-warning systems to encourage further diagnostics, the effect they would have on early cancer detection would be huge.
Sensors capable of detecting cancer risk factors and precancer biomarkers could be paired with more typical sensors utilized in health-tracking devices and fitness wearables in order to appeal to individuals before symptoms begin. Similarly, these biosensors could be integrated into medical devices utilized by people living with chronic conditions that put them at greater risk for cancer, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic disorders.
Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
AI and machine learning are powerful tools for analyzing complex data, improving treatment decision-making, and advancing personalized medicine approaches. These areas are advancing rapidly, especially in the healthcare field. Any future medical technology will need to leverage these tools in order to compete in this ever-advancing market.
MedTech companies can develop AI-powered algorithms that assist in detecting and classifying tumors, identifying subtle abnormalities, and predicting disease progression. AI can also facilitate the integration of imaging data with clinical information, providing a comprehensive view of the patient’s condition and aiding in treatment planning. Algorithms that can analyze vast amounts of patient data will be imperative not just for early diagnosis, but also for treatment progression and post-care guidance.
AI-powered personal health assistants and remote patient monitoring systems are powerful tools to support cancer patients throughout their treatment journey. Companies can develop virtual assistants that provide personalized guidance, support self-care management, and offer information about treatment side effects and symptom management. These AI-based solutions would enhance patient engagement, improve adherence to treatment plans, and facilitate remote monitoring of patient health parameters.
The Future of Cancer Treatment and Early Detection
Connected devices have already shown a huge potential to aid in the diagnosis, treatment, and long-term care of cancer. Yet the utilization of these tools in oncology departments and by those living with cancer is far from realized. Today’s medical tech and medical software companies have a huge opportunity to make advancements in this field by developing innovative wearable solutions, non-invasive diagnostic sensors, and AI-powered data analyzing platforms.
If you have an idea for a connected device that could bring about more positive outcomes in the world of cancer diagnosis and treatment, we want to hear it. Our team at Sequenex has decades of experience planning and developing software and connected devices for the medical market. We would love to partner with you to bring your vision to life. Connect with us today!