Helping kids describe cancer symptoms through cartoons and digital technology

August 9, 2012 By Kate Rauch

How are you sleeping? Any nausea? How about pain? Monitoring symptoms is an important part of cancer care, as it guides treatment decisions.

But tracking the symptoms of children with cancer, especially , is particularly challenging because they may not understand the questions, or their importance, says Christina Baggott, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the UCSF School of Nursing.

Colorful cartoon characters and interactive digital technology may help. Preliminary results of a recent study by Baggott, a trained oncology nurse, found that children with cancer were significantly more likely to weigh in on their symptoms when using a kid-friendly , than the standard written checklist.

“From a clinical standpoint, it’s very important to catch these symptoms early, so we can intervene at an early stage,” says Baggott, who collaborated on the study with Norwegian colleagues who designed the program, known as Sisom.

The traditional written checklist, the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale or MSAS, was used for comparison. It asks patients to rate their experience with a number of symptoms.

“But children may feel uncomfortable discussing certain concerns with clinicians or their parents and may be reticent to report these issues via interview," Baggott says. To find a better solution, she worked with 100 pediatric cancer patients and their parents at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and Stanford Medical Center to compare the answers between the checklist and the computer program.

Baggott looked at a variety of comparisons — how responses by children and by parents differ between the two methods, and how pediatric responses compare to their parents.

“Analyzing the data is complicated because it is being collected from the symptom checklists and from the computer software, entered into a central database,” says Baggott. At each step of the way, all information must be protected by patient privacy laws.

Looking for help, she turned to Consultation Services, a program of UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), specifically RedCap, a Research Electronic Data Capture System that enables researchers to quickly and easily develop data capture forms, reports, and surveys housed for investigators by CTSI.

“I was impressed that UCSF faculty and senior staff provide expert advice,” Baggott says. She was matched with one of them to help her create efficient ways to merge results from the two response methods into one database that can be analyzed in a variety of ways.

With her study, Baggott found out that children acknowledged significantly more concerns using Sisom than the checklist. “Sisom may promote to acknowledge issues and may lead to an improved understanding of pediatric patients’ emotional and physical concerns,” she says.

Now Baggott is examining factors such as the child's age, gender, spoken language and time since diagnosis.

Explore further: Eyes are windows to more than a child's soul

Related Stories

Eyes are windows to more than a child's soul

September 1, 2011

Nearly 80 percent of what children learn during their first 12 years is through their vision. Though vision problems may seem easy to identify, they actually can be difficult for parents to discern. Still, parents need to ...

Earlier autism diagnosis could mean earlier interventions

October 13, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Autism is normally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3. But new research is finding symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in babies as young as 12 months. If children could be diagnosed earlier, it might ...

Recommended for you

Bright lighting encourages healthy food choices

May 26, 2016

Dining in dimly lit restaurants has been linked to eating slowly and ultimately eating less than in brighter restaurants, but does lighting also impact how healthfully we order?

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.