A group of researchers has analyzed 599 mobile applications for breast cancer found in Apple and Google stores, and has concluded that most have been developed with little medical criteria. The authors have observed different levels of disinformation in these 'apps', ranging from material of questionable origin, offering information without citing any sources, to dangerous prescriptions.
Most of the applications analyzed in the study don’t clarify whether health entities have collaborated in its elaboration. / Pixabay
Breast cancer affects more than 1.5 million women each year. In 2015, it caused 570,000 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization. With the spread of smartphone use, apps for this disease have proliferated but can we trust them? Are they medically sound?
A study conducted by Guido Giunti, medical researcher and advisor of the Sevillian company Salumedia Tecnologías, has analyzed 599 breast cancer apps available in the stores of the Apple iOS and Android stores. The main conclusion, the researcher said to Sinc, "is that most do not meet a basic criteria for making the assessment of their reliability possible."
The author emphasizes that 80% of these apps do not cite the source from which they have extracted the data they handle. "Since it is not known where the information came from, it cannot be validated; the developer may have gotten it from Wikipedia or from what he or she heard one day on the radio. There is no way for us to know".
In addition, only one quarter of them have any kind of warning or disclaimers about their use. "This means that if a woman who has the condition, experiences some symptom or is concerned and decides to resort to one of these apps, she will not find anything in them that will guide her in the search for the right information and the help they need."
In most of these applications "there is also no information about whether there has been any cooperation with health entities in their development. And, although more than half promote treatments, they do not include the recommendation to consult with health care providers,” he adds.
Homeopathy and 'alternative' medicine
The results of the study, published in theInternational Journal of Medical Informatics, indicate that most applications found under the descriptor breast cancer in Apple and Google stores were free and targeted to patients.
The most common type of app contained information about the disease and its treatment (30%) and 19% dealt with its management. The authors also noted that 15% of them addressed issues of awareness and sensitization and that one in ten dealt with homeopathy therapies and 'alternative' medicine.
Capture of several breast cancer applications / Google Play
According to Giunti, "there are different levels of disinformation in these health apps, ranging from questionable material, which includes unsourced data about the disease to dangerous indications such as prolonged fasting or self-hypnosis sessions for neutralizing cancer. All of this brings us back to how important it is that the information offered be validated," he emphasizes.
Other problems detected in the apps assessed are the lack of clarity in the information and usability difficulties, with a confusing interface that is not very user-friendly, and fundamentally, that the benefits they offer the patient are not clear.
Lack of quality control
"It is very easy to realize that many of these apps have not had adequate quality controls or have been developed using medical criteria. Our expectations for developing applications of this kind need to be higher,” he says.
The study also highlighted that almost all these apps were created by SMEs and entrepreneurs. In Giunti's opinion, "in the future there will be more and more technological tools that will be part of the health system repertoire. It is our duty as healthcare professionals to find a way to cooperate and make these tools genuinely helpful for patients so that they meet their needs in the best possible manner,” he concludes.
G. Giunti, D.H. Giunta, Guisado-Fernandez, J.L. Bender, L. Fernandez-Luque. “A biopsy of Breast Cancer mobile applications: state of the practice review" (2018), doi:10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2017.10.022.