Quality-of-life (QoL) information from people with cancer is better obtained from online surveys than from paper forms—and even older patients appear to be willing to oblige.

Contrary to the perception that older people with cancer have no access to Web-based technology or are uncomfortable using it, a recent study indicates that a significant proportion of participants average age 64 years preferred using a keyboard and computer to pen and paper when asked to report measures of QoL.

Missing data are a significant problem in clinical trials, noted Benjamin Movsas, MD, and colleagues in an abstract presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, held October 2–6, 2011, in Miami Beach, Florida. Missing QoL data is particularly challenging, because such information cannot be obtained retrospectively.

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Movsas, chairman of radiation oncology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, led a prospective study to test the ability of an electronic Web-based technology to improve QoL data collection compared with using paper forms. This project was part of a larger Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) randomized trial for men with early-stage prostate cancer, in which 90% of patients completed a paper survey on QoL at the end of treatment. Six months later, however, only 52% completed the survey. The goal of the companion study carried out by Movsas’ group was to determine whether the compliance rate could increase from 52% to 75% using a Web-based system.

From September 2008 to December 2009, Movsas and associates enrolled 49 men with prostate cancer and an e-mail address in the study. The survey compliance rate 6 months after treatment rose from 52% to well beyond 75%, reaching about 90%, when the Web-based technology was offered to patients.

The researchers assert that as more patients become computer-savvy, Web-based surveys may be used as a novel strategy to enhance the quality of QoL studies.