Mobile phone apps for preventing cancer through educational and behavioral interventions: State of the art and remaining challenges

Steven Coughlin, Herpreet Thind, Benyuan Liu, Nicole Champagne, Molly Jacobs, Rachael I. Massey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Rapid developments in technology have encouraged the use of mobile phones in smoking cessation, promoting healthy diet, nutrition, and physical activity, sun safety, and cancer screening. Although many apps relating to the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases are available from major mobile phone platforms, relatively few have been tested in research studies to determine their efficacy. Objective: In this paper, we discuss issues related to the development and testing of new apps for preventing cancer through smoking cessation, sun safety, and other healthy behaviors, including key methodologic issues and outstanding challenges. Methods: An exploratory literature review was conducted using bibliographic searches in PubMed and CINAHL with relevant search terms (eg, smartphones, smoking cessation, cancer prevention, cancer screening, and carcinogens) to identify papers published in English through October 2015. Results: Only 4 randomized controlled trials of the use of mobile phone apps for smoking cessation and 2 trials of apps for sun safety were identified, indicating that it is premature to conduct a systematic search and meta-analysis of the published literature on this topic. Conclusions: Future studies should utilize randomized controlled trial research designs, larger sample sizes, and longer study periods to better establish the cancer prevention and control capabilities of mobile phone apps. In developing new and refined apps for cancer prevention and control, both health literacy and eHealth literacy should be taken into account. There is a need for culturally appropriate, tailored health messages to increase knowledge and awareness of health behaviors such as smoking cessation, cancer screening, and sun safety. Mobile phone apps are likely to be a useful and low-cost intervention for preventing cancer through behavioral changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere69
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer
  • Diet
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Environmental carcinogens
  • Health literacy
  • Mobile phone apps
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Prevention
  • Randomized controlled trials
  • Screening
  • Smoking
  • Sun safety
  • Weight loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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