Cadmus-Bertram examining whether coaching support,
Fitbits can improve physical activity among cancer survivors
Patients who complete cancer treatment sometimes perceive a lack of services to transition them to the next phase of survivorship.
The Institute of Medicine and other organizations have recommended that at the completion of treatment, each patient should receive a survivorship care plan that notes previous therapies, recommends a timeline for follow-up visits and includes basic recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. However, not all clinics have the infrastructure in place to offer these plans. And few patients receive specific assistance with physical activity or weight management after cancer treatment.
“Everyone knows physical activity is important,” says UW–Madison’s Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, an assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology. “But advice and information often aren’t sufficient because habits are difficult to change. Many people need coaching or other forms of support to make that happen.”
Cadmus-Bertram is leading a new randomized trial that will provide breast and colorectal cancer survivors with a Fitbit, physical activity coaching and support. The research project will then monitor whether the intervention translates into the higher activity levels shown to be beneficial to survivors.
“Cardiac patients typically receive rehabilitation and support to help them adopt healthy behaviors going forward,” says Cadmus-Bertram. “Cancer survivorship doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to support those types of lifestyle changes — even though research has consistently shown physical activity is vitally important for healthy cancer survivorship.”
Cadmus-Bertram directs the Wisconsin Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab and is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, where the clinical trial will be housed. Her lab, which is currently involved with several research projects, broadly focuses its efforts on the role of physical activity in cancer prevention and survivorship.
Cadmus-Bertram’s research also often examines new technologies and the range of scalable interventions that can help bolster healthy behaviors. In addition, she conducts population-based epidemiological studies to assess a variety of physical activity, sedentary behavior and lifestyle data, and their relationships to cancer.
Cancer survivors enrolling in this current study must find a support partner, such as a spouse or friend, who will be called upon to help motivate the survivor to be physically active. Each pair will then be randomly assigned to the usual care or intervention group.
Patients in the usual care group receive standard follow-up care in addition to a survivorship plan, which includes behavioral tips designed to encourage participants to stay active. Patients in the experimental group will also receive regular coaching through e-mail and a Fitbit, a wearable, wireless activity tracker. Daily step count data from the Fitbit will be automatically uploaded to each patient’s online MyChart account. During the 12 weeks each patient in the experimental group is in the trial, their physician will receive a notification every three weeks to view the step counts through the medical record.
In addition to giving cancer survivors the motivation and tracking tools to stay more active, this study also will examine whether healthcare clinicians look at the data uploaded to a patient’s charts — and whether or not such information prompts them to have conversations with their patients that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The trial will enroll 50 breast and colorectal cancer survivors, and is funded by the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research through its Clinical and Community Outcomes program. This project has received programming support from UW Health and uses a module for Fitibit data developed by Epic.