Background: Mobile phones have become nearly ubiquitous, offering a promising means to deliver health interventions. However, little is known about smartphone applications (apps) for cancer.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to characterize the purpose and content of cancer-focused smartphone apps available for use by the general public and the evidence on their utility or effectiveness.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review of the official application stores for the four major smartphone platforms: iPhone, Android, Nokia, and BlackBerry. Apps were included in the review if they were focused on cancer and available for use by the general public. This was complemented by a systematic review of literature from MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Library to identify evaluations of cancer-related smartphone apps.
Results: A total of 295 apps from the smartphone app stores met the inclusion criteria. The majority of apps targeted breast cancer (46.8%, 138/295) or cancer in general (28.5%, 84/295). The reported app purpose was predominantly to raise awareness about cancer (32.2%, 95/295) or to provide educational information about cancer (26.4%, 78/295), followed by apps to support fundraising efforts (12.9%, 38/295), assist in early detection (11.5%, 34/295), promote a charitable organization (10.2%, 30/295), support disease management (3.7%, 11/295), cancer prevention (2.0%, 6/295), or social support (1.0%, 3/295). The majority of the apps did not describe their organizational affiliation (64.1%, 189/295). Apps affiliated with non-profit organizations were more likely to be free of cost (χ(2) 1=16.3, P<.001) and have a fundraising or awareness purpose (χ(2) 2=13.3, P=.001). The review of the health literature yielded 594 articles, none of which reported an evaluation of a cancer-focused smartphone application.
Conclusions: There are hundreds of cancer-focused apps with the potential to enhance efforts to promote behavior change, to monitor a host of symptoms and physiological indicators of disease, and to provide real-time supportive interventions, conveniently and at low cost. However, there is a lack of evidence on their utility, effectiveness, and safety. Future efforts should focus on improving and consolidating the evidence base into a whitelist for public consumption.
Keywords: Internet; apps; cancer; mobile; software applications.