Phone app paves the way for young adult cancer survivors

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke

In the increasingly technological world we live in, it seems there is now a phone app for everything we do – from restaurant ratings to what to buy for the best price and where. It’s not surprising that we can now use our phones to aid us in the journey to healthier lives. A new app developed at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) is helping young adult cancer survivors navigate long-term care plans from their mobile devices. 

The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Healthy Survivorship app, offers cancer survivors ages 15-39 years personalized tips for being more active, eating better, living a healthier life, and provides an interactive assessment tool that includes a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator.

Creator Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, who is chair of the Cancer Alliance of Texas and a doctoral student at the TAMHSC- School of Rural Public Health, recently presented information about the technology during a National Cancer Institute’s Research-to-Reality Webinar. According to Vollmer Dahlke, improving the quality of life and potential outcomes for youth and young adults diagnosed with cancer has become increasingly important and are the driving forces for the design. 

“The most important thing with treating young adult cancer survivors is knowing their history and what to look out for,” says Maria Marek, RN, clinical nurse navigator with the Seton Cancer Survivor Center, who gives the phone app to all her young cancer patients. “Avoiding secondary cancer is key for young survivors.”

The technology raises awareness for long-term care plans and gives the patient a sense of control when it comes to their life after cancer. 

“It wasn’t until I began using the app that I became aware of the things I could be doing to stay healthy after cancer,” said Laura Ybarra, a cancer survivor and AYA Healthy Survivorship app user. “It puts all the information and resources you need in one convenient spot.” 

For Ybarra, now a military spouse who is constantly on the move, having something easy and portable to provide her with daily reminders concerning follow-up appointments and healthy eating tips is “tremendously helpful.” 

AYA Cancer App“It was nice to download an app and automatically receive daily advice without having to manually access the information,” said Ybarra. “With flyers and brochures, they eventually become junk, but with the app, the information comes to you.” 

Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H, of the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health, notes young adult cancer survivors often lack clear guidance about cancer follow-up care and what can be done to foster healthy survivorship. 

“Drawing on evidence-based guidelines and practices, this app has the potential to reach a large number of adolescent and young adult cancer survivors and make a difference in the quality of their post-treatment lives,” Ory said. 

The phone app outlines current cancer screening guidelines and offers direct access to the Children’s Oncology Group’s Health Links that provides bilingual information about long-term effects of cancer care and treatments. 

“Everyone likes a shortcut that takes you directly to what you need,” Marek says. “This app gives cancer survivors some peace of mind and an indication on how they are doing, their life now, and what it can be.” 

Development of the AYA phone app was supported through the Communities of Texas: Cancer Activity Research Education Support (CTxCARES) program, a project funded through the Center for Community Health Development. Ory serves as principal investigator of the CTxCARES program. 

The AYA Healthy Survivorship app is available for download through iTunes and additional information is available on the app’s website.

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