Icon WebMD Expert Blogs

Cancer Realities

From diagnosis and treatment to remission and survival


The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, review, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have... Expand

The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, reviews, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. User-generated content areas are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD User-generated content as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

For Cancer Patients, the Star Trek “Tricorder” Still a Dream

By Heather Millar


A couple weeks ago, my tween daughter came running out of the bathroom with a copy of the super-serious British news magazine, The Economist. Can you tell she lives with a couple of geeky-journalist parents?

“Mom!” she cried. “There’s a story in here that says they’re trying to invent a real tricorder! Isn’t that cool?!” For those among you who are not Star Trek-initiated, a “tricorder” is a sci-fi device that “Starfleet” medical officers use to diagnose everything from broken limbs to infections from alien viruses. The Economist piece outlined some pretty neat devices that may be life-changing in areas of the developing world where doctors are few and the needs are great.

Smartphone apps mobile devices already exist that can monitor your blood pressure, your blood glucose levels, even take ultrasound images or do retinal scans. Global sales of mobile health apps is predicted to rise from  $718 million in 2011 to $1.3 billion this year, according to The Economist story.

So I wondered if there might be any apps that could help cancer patients. Might there be an app that integrates all the different diet advice for the survivors of various cancers? Maybe someone had created an app to help lung cancer patients quit smoking?

It won’t surprise you that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of health apps at the iTunes store. There were so many that it would take me weeks to analyze them all.

But as I clicked around, I discovered a couple of things: First, the FDA only has draft guidance on which mobile apps require review. So there’s not yet organized oversight of healthcare apps.

Second, I found this study from the Journal of Cancer Education. The researchers found 77 apps relevant to cancer. Seventy-seven! See what I mean about the ferment out there?

Those 77 apps were aimed at different audiences: healthcare agencies, healthcare workers, and patients. But here’s the takeaway: Only about 56 percent of these apps were backed by scientific data. And the apps aimed at consumers seemed to have less scientific backing than those aimed at medical professionals.

I’ve no doubt that in my lifetime something akin to a tricorder will become common. The “Tricorder X Prize” contest, announced last year, will no doubt help move that along. The Qualcomm Foundation, the charity arm of the technology company, is offering a $10 million prize to the first team that can bring quality healthcare to the palm of your hand.

But it’s not here yet. So, for now, be careful of what apps you use to help monitor your health, and stay tuned!

Photo: Creatas

Posted by: Heather Millar at 11:01 am


Leave a comment

Subscribe & Stay Informed


Sign up for the Cancer newsletter and keep up with all the latest news, treatments, and research with WebMD.


WebMD Health News