Cancer treatments are notoriously hard on patients, as more often than not, they cause unpleasant side effects. But findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that reporting these complications sooner rather than later may increase how long folks live, reports the Associated Press.

For the study, researchers selected 766 people being treated for a variety of advanced cancers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Scientists divided individuals into two groups: those who received regular care and those who used an online tool to log common symptoms related to therapy, such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, fatigue and pain.

Participants noted any difficulties they experienced at least once a week or sooner if they had a particular issue. Doctors viewed reports during checkups with patients, and nurses received email alerts when anyone suffered severe side effects. (Nurses responded immediately about 80 percent of the time and requested medicines to relieve patients’ pain or other issues.)

“I was floored by the results,” said Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, a researcher at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and Sloan Kettering and lead author of the study. “We are proactively catching things early [with online reporting].”

Scientists found that the median period of survival for patients who used the online tool was 31 months compared with 26 months for those given traditional care. Results also showed that the group tracking side effects as they occurred clocked fewer trips to the emergency room and remained on chemotherapy longer.

Next, a larger study is scheduled to test the online tool on a national scale.

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