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Publication Detail
Breast, Prostate, and Colorectal Cancer Survivors’ Experiences of Using Publicly Available Physical Activity Mobile Apps: Qualitative Study (Preprint)

Physical activity (PA) can improve a range of outcomes following a cancer diagnosis. These include an improvement in experience of side effects of treatment (eg, fatigue) and management of comorbid conditions. PA might also increase survival and reduce recurrence. Digital interventions have shown potential for PA promotion among cancer survivors, but most in a previous review were Web-based, and few studies used mobile apps. There are many PA apps available for general public use, but it is unclear whether these are suitable as a PA intervention after a cancer diagnosis.


This study sought posttreatment nonmetastatic breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors’ opinions of using smartphone apps to promote PA and gathered their views on existing publicly available PA apps to inform a future intervention.


Each participant was randomly assigned to download 2 of 4 apps (Human, The Walk, The Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout, and Gorilla Workout). Participants used each app for 1 week consecutively. In-depth semistructured telephone interviews were then conducted to understand participants’ experiences of using the apps and how app-based PA interventions could be developed for cancer survivors. The interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis.


Thirty-two participants took part: 50% (16/32) had prostate cancer, 25% (8/32) had breast cancer, and 25% (8/32) had colorectal cancer. Three core themes were identified. The first theme was that multiple factors affect engagement with PA apps and this is highly personalized. Factors affecting engagement included participants’ perceptions of (1) the advantages and disadvantages of using apps to support PA, (2) the relevance of the app to the user (eg, in terms of cancer-related factors, their PA goals, the difficulty level of the app, the way in which they interact with their mobile phone, and the extent to which the app fits with their self-identity), (3) the quality of the app (eg, usability, accuracy, quality of production, and scientific evidence-base), and (4) the behavior change techniques used to promote PA. In the second theme, participants recommended that apps that promote walking are most appealing, as walking removes many barriers to PA. Finally, the participants suggested that PA apps should be integrated into cancer care, as they valued guidance and recommendations from health care professionals.


This sample of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors was receptive to the use of apps to promote PA. Although no publicly available PA app was deemed wholly suitable, many suggestions for adaptation and intervention development were provided. The results can inform the development of an app-based PA intervention for cancer survivors. They also highlight the wide-ranging and dynamic influences on engagement with digital interventions, which can be applied to other evaluations of mobile health products in other health conditions and other health behaviors.

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