October 2, 2012 | by Alicia Di Rado
Kids are great, but let’s face it: If a task isn’t fun -- whatever it is -- they’ll probably forget to do it.
It’s not a big deal if they neglect to clean their room. But for pediatric cancer patients, if they forget to take their medicine, that’s something else altogether.
Not sticking with their complete chemotherapy regimen is one of the major reasons children and teens with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, go into relapse, according to researchers.
But researchers have an idea how to change that. They’ve combined new, modern tools with an old-fashioned strategy to get children to take their medication: They use both text messaging and the watchful eyes of parents.
A team led by Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences and professor of population sciences and pediatrics, is testing a parental-involvement approach that uses text-message reminders and education to get children to take their medication, and do it on time.
“We can quickly suppress cancer in about 97 percent of children with ALL within 28 days,” Bhatia says, “but cancer relapses in about 20 percent of these patients in five years.” Research shows that a major factor is how well patients adhere with their therapy regimen.
The researchers wondered what was different about children who successfully stuck with their chemotherapy regimens. So they talked with these children and their parents to understand the keys to their success. The answer: The parents were vigilant.
As a result, scientists created a package of educational tools that help parents watch and nudge their kids to take pills. They also teach children the importance of complying.
The research team, led by Bhatia, is drawn from six institutions (the Consortium for Comprehensive Approach to Improve Medication Adherence in Pediatric ALL). The intervention uses text message reminders, Web-based medication scheduling, printed schedules and interactive patient education using multimedia.
The clinical trial, run by the Consortium for Comprehensive Approach to Improve Medication Adherence in Pediatric ALL at all participating Children’s Oncology Group member institutions, is sponsored by a nearly $500,000 grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
The strategy may bring on some parental nagging, but when their children take their medications, parents will honestly be able to say, “You’ll thank me later.”