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Background: Theoretically designed mobile health (mHealth) breast cancer interventions are essential for achieving positive behavior change. In the case of breast cancer, they can improve the health outcomes of millions of women by increasing prevention and care efforts. However, little is known about the theoretical underpinnings of breast cancer apps available to the general public.

Objective: Given that theories may strengthen mHealth interventions, this study aimed to identify breast cancer apps designed to support behavior change, to assess the extent to which they address content along the cancer care continuum and contain behavior change techniques, and to assess the degree to which star rating is related to theory-based design.

Methods: Using a criteria-based screening process, we searched 2 major app stores for breast cancer apps designed to promote behavior change. Apps were coded for content along the cancer care continuum and analyzed for behavior change techniques. The Mann-Whitney U test was used to examine the relationship between star ratings and the use of behavior change techniques in apps with star ratings compared to those without ratings.

Results: The search resulted in a total of 302 apps, of which 133 were identified as containing breast cancer content. Only 9.9% (30/302) of apps supported behavior change and were further analyzed. These apps were disproportionally focused on behaviors to enhance early detection, whereas only a few apps supported care management, treatment, and posttreatment behaviors. Regarding theories, 63% (19/30) of apps customized content to users, 70% (21/30) established a health-behavior link, and 80% (24/30) provided behavior change instructions. Of the 30 apps, 15 (50%) prompted intention formation whereas less than half of the apps included goal setting (9/30, 30%) and goal reviewing (7/30, 23%). Most apps did not provide information on peer behavior (7/30, 23%) or allow for social comparison (6/30, 20%). None of the apps mobilized social norms. Only half of the apps (15/30, 50%) were user rated. The results of the Mann-Whitney U test showed that apps with star ratings contained significantly more behavior change techniques (median 6.00) than apps without ratings. The analysis of behavior change techniques used in apps revealed their shortcomings in the use of goal setting and social influence features.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that commercially available breast cancer apps have not yet fully realized their potential to promote behavior change, with only a minority of apps focusing on behavior change, and even fewer including theoretical design to support behavior change along the cancer care continuum. These shortcomings are likely limiting the effectiveness of apps and their ability to improve public health. More attention needs to be paid to the involvement of professionals in app development and adherence to theories and best practices in app design to support individuals along the cancer care continuum.

Publication/Presentation Information

Kalke, K., et al. (2020) Use of Evidence-Based Best Practices and Behavior Change Techniques in Breast Cancer Apps: Systematic Analysis. JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 8(1). doi: 10.2196/14082

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